Iron Man (TAI)
So, this is an alternative universe fanfiction for my fanfic The Aquapolian Initiative. Basically, it's a re-write of the Iron Man movies with a TAI backdrop. Enjoy!
“I wouldn’t have to do this if you weren’t abandoning me.”
“I’m not abandoning you. I’m just getting promoted…and married. I’ll still be working in the company…”
“So, you’re abandoning me, but not having the decency to completely walk out of my life? Seriously?”
Pepper Potts rolled her eyes at her boss’ dramatics. “Will you just see one more applicant? Will it really kill you?”
“No, but it will make me late.”
“As if you were going to be on time in the first place.”
Tony Stark sighed. “Fine, fine, send just one more in.” He was tired of looking for a new assistant. Ever since Pepper announced that she was leaving, taking a higher job in the company, Stark had tried to ignore the fact that he had to either hire a new assistant or continue on without one.
Seeing as how, on a good day, he couldn’t even remember his own Social Security number, option two was out of the question.
Spinning back around to face the floor to ceiling windows, Stark stood up, surveying the factories of Stark Industries that lay out in front of him, spanning acres upon acres of California desert. The company had come a long way from his father’s days as founder and CEO. Since Stark had started working as a head partner of the company in his early twenties, he had only ever had two assistants. Pepper had worked for him for a good fifteen years…and he refused to even think about his first assistant…not now.
Outside in the lobby, Pepper surveyed the college students who waited on chairs and sofas, eager for their chance to merely speak to the great Tony Stark. All of them were engineering majors from different institutes throughout the country. Stark had requested more to be from his alma mater, MIT. The rest were from Caltech.
Except for one. Pepper looked over the young woman’s bio. She wasn’t mechanical, electrical, aerospace engineering…but her bio was interesting…and she should at least get one shot. “I apologize, but Mr. Stark will only see one more applicant today.” All of the students turned to her, sitting up straighter and holding breaths. “Can I see…” She glanced down at the bio. “Miss Katharine Coulson, please?”
A young woman with long blonde hair stood up from her seat. She was dressed in a plain black skirt and white blouse. As soon as she was within a few feet of Pepper, the older woman realized that she had the strangest blue eyes she had ever seen. Their shades seemed to shift between sky blue to sapphire blue and back again continuously. Pepper almost let herself stare at them a second too long before clearing her throat and saying, “Please follow me.”
Pepper was always reluctant to leave the interviewees alone in the room with Stark. His natural personality tended to overwhelm and intimidate people who were not used to his sarcasm and offhand remarks. There was something about this girl, however…there was a fire in those shifting blue eyes that told Pepper that she could handle whatever Stark threw at her.
And that was really what he needed in an assistant, Pepper realized. Any of those students in there could do the initial jobs, running errands, picking up files, setting up appointments. The largest part of being Tony Stark’s assistant was dealing with him day in and day out.
Stark didn’t turn around when his office door opened. He could tell by the footsteps of the last candidate that it was a young woman. He inwardly sighed. He was done with this. He would listen to one more student beg for the job, then leave for his plane to the Middle East. Pepper wasn’t leaving for another few weeks, anyway…
“Mr. Stark?” He didn’t realize that he had been staring out the window for least three minutes since she had stepped into the room. He might as well not prolong the misery.
“Sorry, I just don’t think this is going to work.” He had expected those words to be the last of the conversation, for the girl to say something and leave and for him to be free. A few moments passed in silence, until her voice startled him.
“If this is going to be a waste of your time, Mr. Stark, please tell me now so that it won’t be a waste of MY time. I’m missing classes to attend this interview, and, as you know, not everyone is as smart as you are. If I’m boring you, then save us both the trouble and end it now.”
No one had spoken to him like that since…He smiled, impressed by the girl’s tenacity, and turned around.
His smile faded, replaced by one of shock. It couldn’t be…
The eyes…He blinked and asked, “What was your name again?”
It had to be. The eyes. The name. The hair. There was no mistaking it.
If he could, he would cancel his trip to the Middle East in an instant. Twenty-one years, and here she was. But he couldn’t. This was one of those business trips he couldn’t get out of. He told himself it was only for a few days. But she would be back at school in a few days…
“Tell you what, Kat, why don’t you stick around for the next week until I get back from my business trip? I’ll cover for you at school if you have any exams or whatever.”
She frowned. “How did you know that was my nickname?”
He mentally kicked himself. “Just a guess. What do you say, we’ll talk after my trip?”
He could tell that she wanted to say no, that she just wanted to get back to school and forget this entire experience, but she couldn’t. “Okay…”
Stark didn’t want to rush her out, but he needed to leave soon…and he didn’t want to start a conversation that could end very, very badly. “Great! See you later this week.”
Shifting blue eyes…no, green ones. She had died with her eyes open, her blonde hair spread out across the floor like a halo around her head. That carpet used to be white…the red stain refused to come out, so the carpet had to go.
It had been years since he had dreamed of her, but now…He forced himself to wake up before he came to within a few feet of her.
This time, he woke more violently than he had intended. Disoriented for a few moments, he panicked at the pressure and pain in his chest before he realized where he was…and what was in his chest.
Stark’s trip to Afghanistan and gone horribly, horribly wrong. After he had demonstrated Stark Industries’ new missiles in front of the army, his convoy had been attacked, and he had been kidnapped. Somewhere in the middle of the chaos, a bomb had exploded, sending shrapnel flying into his chest.
That was where the arc reactor had come in. The group that had kidnapped him had also kidnapped a local doctor to prevent him from dying. The man had installed an electromagnetic device in his chest to stop the shrapnel from penetrating his heart. Stark had modified it so that he no longer had to walk around with a battery attached to his chest. The terrorist cell that had kidnapped them wanted Stark to make one of his weapons for them.
But Stark and the doctor had other ideas. He had drawn up plans for a metal battle suit, one that would take them both out of there safely.
One night, they were working on the breastplate of the suit. The doctor had talked on and on about his family. Stark didn’t mind the background noise, but when the doctor started to speak about how he had met his wife, Stark inwardly flinched. The nightmare flashed before his eyes. It stayed in his mind, along with Kat’s face.
The doctor had asked a question…but Stark hadn’t heard it. “I’m sorry, what?” He looked up from the breastplate he had been wiring one of the arms to.
“Do you have a family waiting for you at home?”
He paused. “No…they’re not waiting…” The doctor waited patiently as he continued. “My wife passed away about twenty years ago.” He took a deep breath. He had not confided in many people what he was about to say. “We had a daughter, but she was taken from me when my wife died. She’s still alive. There may be some hope that I’ll see her one day.”
The doctor’s final words had been an order. Find your daughter and never let her go again.
Stark had planned on doing just that.
As the plane touched down on American soil again, all he could think about was getting Kat back to California. In fact, the first words out of his mouth when he sat down in the awaiting car with Pepper were, “Call back Miss Coulson and have her come to California immediately.”
“I think we can put off switching assistants right now…”
“No, no we can’t. Call her back.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said a bit more forcefully than he meant to. “Listen, before we get to the press conference, I want two things. A cheeseburger. And for you to call Miss Coulson back and tell her to get out here immediately. Last one first, please.”
“Now? You want me to call her now?”
Stark was rarely serious, but when he was…Pepper recognized the look on his face that told her he wasn’t kidding around. She picked up her phone, found Kat’s number and dialed it, waiting for it to ring a few times before the young woman’s voice sounded across the speaker.
“Hi, Miss Coulson. This is Pepper Potts speaking.”
There was a pause on the other line. The press had gotten word that Stark had been rescued and was back in the States, so, of course, Kat had to know that he was back in America. It had been all over the news for days. Finally, after what seemed like forever, Kat asked, “May I help you with something?”
“Yes, the position for Mr. Stark’s personal assistant is still open. How soon can you fly to California?”
Another pause. “I got the job?”
“You can start work right away…well, of course…” She glanced over at Stark, who was watching her intently. “After a short training period.”
“I would love to, but, Miss Potts, I have school…”
“Hold on just a second…” Pepper turned to Stark. “She has school.”
“Tell her that I’ll take care of school for her. I’ll pull some strings over there, get her a 4.0 for the semester.”
Pepper repeated this to Kat, who still seemed hesitant, but finally said, “Okay. I’ll see if I can book a flight for later this week.”
“Tell her she can use the company jet.”
Pepper gave him a strange look. “She isn’t even technically hired yet.”
“So? She’s got the job, she can use the jet.”
Pepper relayed this information to Kat, who agreed to travel out to the Atlanta airport in two days’ time to get on the jet to California. Pepper hung up the phone and turned to Stark. “Okay, why are you so adamant about getting this particular girl out here to work for you? Did she impress you that much?”
Instead of outright answering her question, Stark turned away, saying in that voice Pepper knew to be his I’m-dodging-the-subject voice, “I’ll tell you later. All will be revealed.”
Kat sat back in the chair she had snagged at the library, staring at the ceiling, vaguely aware of the other students frantically bustling and studying around her. It was finals week at her college, and everyone was hurrying to cram as much knowledge into their brains as they possibly could.
But Kat didn’t need to do that anymore. For once, she was guaranteed to walk out of a semester with a 4.0. She felt a bit empty. What could she do now but make her final arrangements and pack?
The first thing she did was slide her iPhone out of her pocket and dial her Uncle Phil. She knew he was most likely at work, but he would pick up if he saw it was her calling. She never called without a reason while he was on a case.
“Hey, Kat, what’s up?” Phil Coulson was not technically her uncle. In fact, they weren’t even related. Kat’s parents had died when she was very young, and Coulson had adopted her, raising her by himself. Though he had acted the parts of both mother and father for her, he had never seemed a father…which was why she had and always would call him Uncle Phil.
“I know you’re probably watching at work, so you know that Stark is back in America safe and sound now.”
“Yeah, we knew that a few days ago, Kat.” Coulson was a member of SHIELD, a government organization that rivaled the CIA in secrecy and efficiency. He had worked his way up the ranks and had trained many other agents, including a family friend and Kat’s personal trainer, Clint Barton. Coulson had assigned him the position due to Kat’s…powers.
“Well, his assistant just called me and full on shoved the job onto me, so I guess I’ll be packing up and moving out to California.”
“That’s great, Kat.” No hint of surprise. No protests that she shouldn’t drop out of school. Kat had the sudden urge to ask him who he was and what he had done with her uncle. “How about I come and help you move?”
“Stark Industries is sending a jet to pick me up,” she explained. “But, I’m sure they’ll let you ride with me.”
“Good, good. Kat…”
Kat frowned. “Is something wrong?” Coulson was not sounding like himself at all.
“No, I’m just glad you got the job. This is a real break for you, Kat. I’ll know you’ll do well…”
But as she hung up the phone and stared around the library at the harried students, Kat had the feeling that there was something largely unspoken in his voice.
Coulson sat back in his seat on the private jet Stark had sent for Kat to fly out to Malibu in. The agent glanced out of the window, refusing the drink the stewardess offered him. “Sorry, I’m on call at work right now. Can’t drink today.”
She shot him a confused look, but did not say more. Coulson turned back to Kat, who was staring out of the window, growing nervous by the mile. “You’re going to do great, Kat,” he said in a reassuring voice. “Stark is…hard to get along with, but you’ve always had a gift of adjusting to your environment.”
She sighed. “I hope so. Otherwise, throwing away my academic career will be a waste of time.”
Coulson raised an eyebrow. “You do realize that he’ll probably pay for the rest of your schooling after the internship is over, right? Even if it doesn’t go well, he’s got enough money to where that wouldn’t be a problem.”
Kat squirmed in her seat. “I guess so…it’s just so sudden…I mean…a few weeks ago, he was being detained by terrorists, and now…”
“Don’t worry so much, Kat. Just look at the perks of your job. Thousands of your fellow engineering students would kill for it.”
In the airport terminal, Coulson carried several of her bags as she looked around for the assistant who was supposed to be picking them up. She finally spotted a slightly chubby middle-aged man holding up a sign with the name “Kat Coulson” printed on it in large block letters. She waved at him and led Coulson over to where he was standing.
“Miss Coulson? Welcome, I’m one of Mr. Stark’s drivers, Happy Hogan.” He shook her hand and introduced himself to Coulson as well. “If you will follow me, I’ll take you to the Stark Industry offices and I can get you set up with Miss Potts right away.”
“Is there any chance you could drop me off by the Seaside Apartments?” Coulson asked. “I’d like to move some of her luggage in as soon as possible.”
“Of course. Please follow me.”
Kat could feel her nerves starting to kick in as she stepped into the main Stark Industry offices beside Happy, playing anxiously with her security card as he led her to the small office Pepper kept in the building. They finally appeared at the glass and wood-line office, but, unfortunately, she was late, so they had to wait in the lobby for a few moments.
After a few minutes, Kat couldn’t take standing beside Happy silently much more. “So, are there any tips you can give me about working with Mr. Stark?” She asked, trying to make sure she looked determined to do the job. The more she hyped it up in her mind as a challenge, she believed, the easier it would be to get through this experience.
Happy jumped excitedly on this question, nearly startling Kat with his enthusiasm. “Make sure you’re on your toes at all times with your verbal game. He has a fast wit, so either develop one to challenge his, or develop your own style to show him that you’re not intimidated or scared of him. Also, expect for him to be late to things…a lot.”
Happy looked like he was going to continue his barrage of answers, but, luckily for Kat, Pepper stepped into the lobby beside a tall young man dressed in a three-piece suit. As they approached, Kat could make out his light red hair and turquoise eyes. For some reason, he looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him exactly.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Pepper apologized when they were within earshot of Kat and Happy. “I had to stop by legal to pick up Grayson before I came here. Kat, this is Grayson Strauss from the legal department. He’s Mr. Stark’s personal lawyer. Grayson, this is Kat Coulson, Mr. Stark’s new assistant.” They shook hands, and Kat could feel herself getting a little flustered at how good-looking Grayson was. “Now, I have something to show you in my office if you’ll follow me.”
“I don’t know whether to congratulate you or offer my condolences,” Grayson joked in a Bristish accent to Kat as they followed Pepper to her office.
She laughed. “Maybe a little of both. It sounds like a challenge.”
Grayson smiled at her reply as Pepper turned and said, “Oh, it is. Believe it or not, though, you’re only the third of his assistants over the past twenty years. He doesn’t have a history of firing them, really.”
“Was his first assistant promoted too, or did she just leave?”
Kat was surprised at the sadness that flashed across Pepper’s eyes at her question. “No, unfortunately, she died. She was actually a cousin of mine. It was an accident.”
“Oh…” Kat could feel her cheeks burning. “I’m sorry…I didn’t know.”
Pepper waved away her apology. “It was a long time ago. Just…don’t bring it up around Stark. He’s a little touchy about the subject.” This comment led Kat to contemplate what his original assistant had meant to him as she stepped into Pepper’s office.
“Now, I brought Grayson here to our meeting today because you’re going to work with him on all of Stark’s legal issues. Contracts, paperwork, etc. Since you don’t have experience in these areas, I thought it would be great for you and Grayson to work together on this. For the first week, you’ll be shadowing me as I attend to all of Stark’s needs. The second week, you’ll be on your own. I apologize for throwing you into the lion’s din so soon, but I have to start work in my new job that week, so I won’t be able to help you. Any questions other than legal you can ask Happy…or improvise. Believe it or not, he will be prone to cut you some slack that first week.”
Pepper withdrew a paperback file from her desk and handed it to Kat. “Familiarize yourself with this playbook I’m giving you. It’s his likes, dislikes, hates, etc. The faster you learn it, the faster you’ll get along with him, though I think he likes you already. He was quite impressed at his interview with you.”
“Really?” Kat raised an eyebrow. “All I did was yell at him about his wasting my time…”
Grayson laughed. “Yes, that will do it. If you keep that up, you’ll get along with him just fine.”
Pepper glanced at her watch. “I’m sorry, but I have a meeting with Stark right now. I’ll have Happy drive you back to your apartment so you can get moved in.” Kat and Grayson followed her into the lobby and said their good-byes to her.
“Do you need any help moving in?” Grayson asked.
“Oh, no, no, my uncle is helping me, but thank you for the offer…”
“Well, then, I’ll see you sometime later this week.” He pointed to the playbook Pepper gave her. “My number is in there. Don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions.” He said good-bye and walked off in the direction of the elevators.
Kat watched him go as Happy stepped up to her side. He watched her watch Grayson for a few moments before he said, “Let’s get on out to the car. Oh, and by the way…he’s single.”
“I cannot believe you right now,” Pepper said as she slammed the door to Stark’s office, making sure it was locked so that no one barged into their conversation.
He looked up from his desk, confused. “What did I do this time?”
“You hired Kat Coulson,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “It is obvious to anyone that knew you and Caroline were married that she is your daughter. You didn’t think I would pick that up after being left in a room with her for a few minutes? You hired her for a job that will place her at your side pretty much twenty-four hours a day and, if I know you, AND I DO, you will refuse to tell her who you really are for a good while.”
Stark waited for a few moments before asking, “Are you finished?”
“What are you thinking, Tony?” She demanded, then realized something, and calmed down for a few moments. “Is this because of your experience in Afghanistan?”
He shrugged. “I found her for the first time in twenty-one years. Even before, I wasn’t going to let that opportunity go, but now…I can’t pass this one up.”
“When are you going to tell her?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you don’t tell her, I will,” Pepper threatened. “She deserves to know, Tony, and you deserve for her to know…after all of these years…”
“What is she going to think, Pepper? I pretty much abandoned her. At least in this way she won’t hate me.”
Pepper sighed. “Tony, you didn’t abandon her. Everyone who knows what happened knows that you did everything to find her and that it ripped you apart to let her go.” She paused, thinking. “All you have to do is sit her down and explain it to her straight. It’s not rocket science. And you have Coulson to back you up on this…”
“Of course I do…who do you think sent her to me?”
Realization dawned on Pepper. “Then it’s a sign, Tony! This is a sign for you to regain the life with her that you lost!”
There was silence for a few moments until he said slowly, “I’ll tell her by the end of the year, okay?”
“That’s seven months from now.”
Stark paused, indecision flashing across his eyes. Pepper knew this was a hard choice for him. For some strange reason, he was afraid that Kat would reject him completely, that something about Stark would make her angry at him once he told her. While Stark was often brash and inconsiderate to others, Kat was the one person on Earth whom he’d never put down or hurt.
“I’ll tell her on her birthday,” Stark said finally. “That’s four months from now. Happy?”
Pepper sighed. She was hoping for something more immediate, but she would take what she could get. “Tony,” she paused before she left, turning back to him and hoping that he would listen to what she was about to say. “Kat’s not going to hate you. But…she will start to dislike you if you put off telling her for much longer.”
“This is nice,” Coulson whistled as Kat stepped into her new glass-lined modern apartment. “Not only is the salary good…they’re paying for your living arrangements as well.” He laughed. “Might as well not finish school to quickly, Kat. Tech graduates won’t live this well for another five or six years after they graduate.”
“I could probably convince Stark to start something related to biomedical engineering in the company. I mean, come on, I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate the arc reactor they put in his heart, but others with heart disabilities might.”
Coulson paused in front of the glass walls that looked out onto the ocean. Kat stepped up to gaze with him, breathing in and out, finally relaxed after the chaos that had been the past few days. “You’ll come and visit me, right?” She asked after a few sweet silent moments.
“Of course,” he smiled. “I’ll call you at the end of the week once I look at my schedule. Unless something comes up all of a sudden, I’ll be able to stop in several times between now and the fall.” He paused, and Kat could tell he was debating over what he was going to say next. “I wanted to give you a choice on this, Kat. Say no if you want to, that’s fine. But, you know, I want you to continue with your training…”
Kat lifted an eyebrow. “Go on…” She said, when Coulson’s pause was too long.
“I asked Barton to stop in and see if he could find an apartment on the other side of town. He will only stay in town to watch over you from afar…give you regular training sessions…and be a phone call away if you need help or just someone familiar to talk to. He is NOT going to be a bodyguard or a guardian or whatever. In fact, he’s on a separate mission of his own that he’s been assigned up the coast, so he may not even be in the city much. Are you okay with this?”
To tell the truth, Kat was relieved that at least one person she knew would be in town. Clint Barton had been one of Coulson’s first recruits at SHIELD, and had trained Kat to control her powers and defend herself. He was stern in training sessions, but laid back outside of the gym, serving Kat as both a mentor and a friend. She had wanted to strike out on her own completely…but better Barton’s protection than some random SHIELD agent who would be on her case twenty-four seven.
“Yes, actually, that would be great,” she replied.
“Good.” There was another pause. Kat knew Coulson had to get back to D.C. He obviously didn’t want to part too soon. He took a breath, and turned to her, surprising sadness in his eyes. “Kat, whatever happens over the next few months, I just ask you…not to think any less of me…and never to think any less of Stark.”
Those were his parting words before he walked out of her apartment, leaving her stunned and wondering over the meaning of his declaration.
17th May 2013, 2:26 AM
The sound of the alarm clock screeched through Kat’s nightmare about missing her final exam in organic chemistry. It wasn’t until she woke up fully a few seconds later that she remembered that she didn’t have to take the final AND she had been guaranteed an A in the class. This made her smile with relief for a few moments before dread and fear overcame her. It was her first day on the job.
Pepper had outlined instructions for her dress code, which was merely just business casual for most days. Kat had paid attention to what her predecessor had worn the past few times she had seen her. High heels and skirts were not what she was used to, but she had gone to the special effort to pick up some outfits the day before that would be presentable. A plain black skirt and blue blouse…in fact, most of her clothes were black and blue. She had always preferred blue, the blue of the sky and ocean, and of the entire spectrum her eyes changed through to go with her emotions.
Balancing on her high heels, she ran to get her phone when it started buzzing, threatening to fall off of the black marble kitchen counter. “Hello?”
“Hi, Miss Coulson.” It was Happy. “I’m here to drive you to Stark Industries. Miss Potts has assigned me to pick you up every day for work,” he explained.
“Okay, thank you! I’ll be right down!” Kat said, hanging up and grabbing her purse and keys before running out the door to the elevator bank, making sure she didn’t trip and fall over as she rushed for the doors.
The elevator went a floor down before it stopped to let someone else on. She sighed, feeling guilty for making Happy wait for her. He seemed like a really nice fellow. She didn’t want to inconvenience him or anything.
Her breath caught in her throat as the passenger stepped on, giving her a warm smile. “I thought you lived in this building. Are you on the fourth floor?” Grayson asked as the doors slammed shut and the elevator started to descend once again.
“Ah…yes. I…didn’t know you lived here…” She said, cursing herself for her stuttering. Smooth, Kat. Really, smooth.
“A lot of Stark Industries’ new talent lives here,” he explained. “I just moved in myself about half a year ago. Benefits for working with Stark…or rather having to put up with him on a daily basis.”
“Is he really that hard to work for?” Kat asked, trying to keep the worry out of her voice. She had faced harder problems than this in school, she was sure of it.
“No…you just have to get used to his…unique personality,” Grayson replied as they stepped out onto the sidewalk where Happy was parked. “Do you mind if I catch a ride to work with you?” He asked, motioning to the black car.
“Oh, no, sure, it’s fine!” Kat said, waving at Happy through the window. Grayson opened the door for her, and she slid into the back seat as he ran around the back to sit on the other side.
“Late for work again, Grayson?” Happy asked as he pulled out onto the street.
“I’m never late for work, Happy,” he replied with a smile.
“One of these days…one of these days, you’re going to be late like the rest of us mere mortals. Welcome to day one, Miss Coulson. Hopefully, you’ll stick around to day two.”
“Oh, I don’t think we should be worried about that,” Grayson said, turning to her and giving her a warm smile. “I’m sure she’ll be able to take whatever Stark throws her way.”
“Yeah, it’s next week when Miss Potts leaves that you have to be worried about,” Happy said as he turned onto the highway.
“Just watch Pepper closely over the next few days…but I wouldn’t try to imitate her too much. Stark doesn’t want another Pepper. He wants a new, unique person to deal with,” Grayson continued.
After twenty more minutes of Happy and Grayson giving her more advice, Happy pulled up to the entrance of Stark Industries. Before Kat could even touch her door handle, Grayson had jumped out of the car to open her door for her. “Thank you,” she said, ducking her head so he didn’t see her blush. Pepper was waiting for them in the lobby.
“Good, morning, Grayson. I see you’re on time yet again,” Pepper said jokingly. He said his good-byes to both of them and left for his office. “Now, Happy is going to drive us out to the house. Once I vacate the office here, it’s yours, but most of your work is going to be done at the house.”
Stark’s house was a large metal and white modern-looking building hanging on the side of a cliff with a wonderful view of Malibu outside. Inside, glass and metal and holographic computer screens were everywhere. Kat had to keep from slipping out of her heels as she spun around to take everything in. “This way,” Pepper said. Kat followed her down a winding staircase into the lower level of the house where a workshop was laid out below. Car after car was lined up, all of them nice and bright and shiny. Stark was sitting in the middle of the shop, surrounding by holographic computer screens. As soon as Pepper opened the glass door for them to step in, Stark turned toward them.
This was the first time Kat had seen Stark face-to-face since she had yelled at him during their interview. She had a sudden urge to apologize for screaming at him, but she immediately suppressed it. Grayson had told her that Stark wasn’t looking for another Pepper, and Pepper herself had hinted that one of the factors in Kat being hired by Stark was the way she had handled herself (well, mostly Stark) in the interview.
“I see you have a new project to work on,” Pepper said, pointing to a cherry red racecar that had been disassembled in one corner of the shop. Parts were strewn everywhere, but Kat couldn’t tell which belonged where. She didn’t know a thing about cars. She left that to her friends who were mechanical engineers. “Good, that should keep him busy for at least a day or two,” she murmured to Kat, who gave her a slightly nervous smile.
She could practically feel Stark watching her as Pepper talked to him about his recent press conference. Kat tried to stand up straight and put on her newly adopted I’m-here-to-work-but-if-you-think-you’re-going-to-intimidate-me-you’ll-find-I’m-not-easily-intimidated look, but she was quickly distracted by another holographic computer screen basically floating in mid-air nearby. Outside of Stark’s house, she had never seen one before, and her curiosity got the best of her.
“All I’m saying is that you need to work through a plan of action for the board,” Pepper said as Kat tentatively pushed an icon on the screen. It pulled up a schematic of the arc reactor that powered the Stark Industries factory a few miles away…the same type of technology that now resided in Stark’s heart. She had heard the stories…how he had escaped somehow from being captured by terrorists in the Middle East. But HOW? She read through the diagrams, familiarizing herself with his work as Pepper talked on and on.
Suddenly, the shop got extremely quiet, and Kat looked up to see Pepper and Stark looking up at her. “Oh…I was just looking at the arc reactor.”
“Naturally curious. The instinct behind every engineer,” Stark said, swinging back towards the screens in front of him. “Tell me, Kat, have you ever seen screens like this before?”
“No, I haven’t,” she shook her head. Suddenly, the screen expanded in front of her until everything became 3D. It happened so quickly, Kat had to suppress a yelp of surprise as she jumped back to examine the arc reactor at all sides.
“I came up with the original software about twenty years ago. Took me ten years to perfect, but here it is,” Stark said, standing up and motioning at the computer. “By the way, this is JARVIS.”
“Hello, Miss Coulson.”
This time, Kat actually yelped as she jumped, looking around frantically to see where the voice was coming from. Stark chuckled and Pepper gave him a stern look. “What? Everyone has that reaction to JARVIS at first,” he said.
“Let’s not terrorize the new assistant on her first day, Tony,” Pepper warned, rolling her eyes and turning to Kat. “I have to apologize. He likes getting reactions like that to his inventions.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s okay,” Kat said, warily turning around. “Um…Hi, JARVIS. How are you?”
“I am glad to have you here, and I hope you stay to ensure that, in Miss Potts absence, Mr. Stark does not end up wounding and/or killing himself while he goes about his daily antics.”
This time it was Pepper’s turn to smile. “Ah, yes, actually, Kat, that IS part of the job.”
“My work isn’t THAT dangerous,” Stark protested, motioning around to all of the cars in the shop and the odds and ends strewn about on the floor.
“Tony, you started a massive fire down here one day because you tried to see what certain strange combinations of elements do when attacked with a flamethrower. We had to convince the Department of Defense you weren’t trying to make bombs at home.”
“I had an excuse for that.”
Kat laughed. “See? She knows what I’m talking about,” Stark said, pointing to her.
Pepper smiled. “Okay, well, we need to get back to the office. Have fun with your new project.” Kat started to follow her out, but was stopped by Stark.
“Hey, Kat, starting next week, you’ll be working mostly down here, so feel free to just show up at work in a t-shirt and jeans. I’ve got a project I’m going to need another engineer’s help on.”
“Oh…Okay, Mr. Stark.”
“Good. Thanks,” he said before turning back to his computer screens. Kat paused for a few moments before following Pepper up the stairs.
The next few days consisted of Kat following Pepper around wherever she went, watching and learning what was expected of her in the job. By the time the end of the week rolled around, Kat was pretty sure she knew what to do. Pepper had cleared all of her stuff out of her office, allowing Kat to place the few pictures of her and her childhood friend Mike and her and Coulson on her desk and make sure everything was set up the way she liked it.
On Thursday, she had a free few hours to spend in her office, going over last minute details. The knock on her door startled her. “Yes? It’s open, come on in,” she called. The door opened to reveal Grayson and a slightly burly, older man in his late fifties, early sixties.
“Sorry to drop in on you like this, Kat,” Grayson said as she stood up, smoothing out her skirt. “Mr. Stane wanted to meet you before the board meeting in a few minutes.”
“Obadiah Stane.” He said, reaching out to shake Kat’s hand. “You must be Tony’s new assistant that Pepper was talking about. She said you made quite an impression in your interview with him.”
“Well, I…don’t know about that…” Kat said, not known exactly how to respond. Grayson gave her a warm smile, seeing how nervous she was.
“You have big shoes to fill. Miss Potts did an excellent job all of these years keeping Tony in line…and alive,” Obadiah laughed at his own joke. “But, from what I hear, I’m sure you’ll be able to do well. Good luck to you, Miss Coulson.” With that, he stepped out of the room.
Grayson paused before following after him. “I’m not quite sure if you’re interested, but there is a friend of mine coming down from New York this weekend, and we were thinking of just hanging out tomorrow night…We could show you around Malibu if you want. I know it’s been a long week, but we weren’t planning on anything big…”
“Oh…sure, that sounds great. I…do you want me to meet you somewhere…?”
“Oh, no, no, I’ll come and pick you up. Remember, I live right below you.”
“Oh, of course. Thank you. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Great. I’ll text you later about a specific time. Have a nice day.”
“Okay! Erm…bye!” Kat stared at the door for a few minutes after Grayson closed it, not believing what just happened.
Suddenly, the door burst open, making Kat almost shriek and jump in her seat. Stark raced in, turned around and slammed the door behind him, holding the doorknob still so that it didn’t open again. “Mind if I chill in here for a few moments to hide from someone?” Kat didn’t know what to say, so she just nodded. “Great, great…” He said, locking the door and walking over to one of the floor to ceiling windows that lined Kat’s new office.
They stood in silence for a few minutes because Kat didn’t know what to say and Stark was obviously caught up in his own thoughts. Finally, Stark turned around, looking at the door as if he were trying to make a decision. “I think he’s still out there, so I’ll stay and hang with you for a little bit,” he said, flopping down in one of the chairs in front of Kat’s desk. He looked over her and raised an eyebrow. “Come on, I know you can talk. Don’t worry, I don’t bite…well, I do, but I won’t bite you.”
“Sorry, I just…I’m still getting used to things around here…”
“Did Pepper tell you your full job description?”
“No, the real one, the one where you’re pretty much going to have to baby sit me for an extended period of time.”
“I think she mentioned that…”
“Just want to say, I’m going to try not to give you a hard time. Just relax, handle whatever paperwork you need to, and have fun. Also, make sure I don’t die…which is extremely important because…and don’t mention this to ANYONE because this is a secret between the two of us…I’m starting work on a new project next week, and I’m going to need your help…mostly keeping it secret, but also filming test runs and running data and getting coffee and keeping me from killing myself…that sort of thing. You in?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Do I have a choice?”
“Not really, no, but are you going to be excited about the project or not, because I’ll tell you right now, it’s going to be pretty awesome and you should be excited about it.”
“I think I’ll decide how excited I will be about it when we actually start, Mr. Stark.”
He gave her a huge smile. “Great, great. You’ll do well, I know you will.” He paused, something serious flashing through his eyes before he said, “I think he’s gone now. I’ll see you on Monday. Make sure to wear jeans.” And with that, he was gone, out the door before Kat could say anything else.
“I’m just saying, I am extremely surprised that you haven’t had to handle more lawsuits than you’ve had to since you started as Stark’s lawyer.”
“They’ve really slowed down since he got back from Afghanistan. He’s changed.”
“Yeah, an experience like that…anyone would be changed.”
Grayson pressed the button for the next floor up and turned to his friend, Mike. “She just started here earlier this week. Stark’s new assistant. I figured she would need a night to relax and have fun before starting the job from hell.”
Mike shook his head. “I can’t even imagine working for Tony Stark, much less working with him one-on-one like that day in and day out,” he said as they walked through the hall and knocked on Kat’s front door.
“Yeah, at least I only have to see him once every week or so. He’s actually nice once you get to know him…well…if he likes you.”
After a few moments, they heard her shout, “I’ll be there in just a minute!”
“So, what did you say this girl’s name was again?”
The door flew open to reveal Kat, who was dressed in dark jeans and a pretty blue shirt that definitely went well with her eyes. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said before she spotted Mike.
“No, way,” Mike said.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Wait…what’s going on?” Grayson asked, confused.
“Kat Coulson? What are you doing here in Malibu?” Mike asked.
“I got a job. I’m Tony Stark’s new assistant.”
“And when were you going to tell me?” Mike said in a fake hurt voice, trying to give her his saddest look, but failing miserably. Poor Grayson still looked lost.
“I called you all last week, and you didn’t answer. I thought maybe Uncle Phil could get through to you, but no dice,” Kat said, sounding as exasperated as she could, but really, inside she felt relieved. It was going to be super awkward just being around Grayson outside of work. At least now Mike was there…which made her a lot more chill…and, in turn, made her act more like herself in front of Grayson. Not that she really cared. I mean, sure, he was single, but…
Mike rolled his eyes. “My boss had me practically living in a library all last week working on a case for some big corporation in New York. You know how Harvey is.” Both Kat and Grayson had apparently heard what Mike’s boss was like, because both of them smiled and nodded, Grayson a little more comfortable with the conversation, but thoroughly confused. My, how the tables had turned.
“So, how do you two know each other?” Grayson asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Mike said, slinging an arm around Kat’s shoulder. “This is my little sister.”
“I’m three months older than you are!” Kat protested.
Grayson was still confused. “Wait, I didn’t know you had a sister…”
Kat laughed. She and Mike’s relationship was confusing to most people. Both of them had been orphaned at a young age. Uncle Phil had ended up adopting her while Mike’s grandmother had taken him in when his parents died before kindergarten started. They had met and bonded over this in kindergarten, their relationship soon blossoming into a sort of brother/sister/best friends relationship. By the time high school had rolled around, people had forgotten that they WEREN’T actually related and referred to them as brother and sister.
“Oh, no, I’m not actually his sister. I’m adopted. Well, both by Uncle Phil and by Mike’s family.”
Finally, the confusion in Grayson’s eyes was gone, replaced by a look of amusement. “Now I’m starting to see the family resemblance.”
“I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or not,” Mike said, earning what was meant to be a playful punch but was actually a pretty hard punch from Kat.
A few minutes later, they found themselves in a quiet, laidback bar. Kat hadn’t known what to expect from the night. Part of her had expected clubs or a party or whatever, but all Mike and Grayson were interested in was the food this particular bar served and drinking a few beers together with Kat. And this…this was Kat’s ideal way to spend a night out with friends anyway.
“So, next week, you start out as Stark’s full-time assistant.” Mike shook his head. “I knew you were going for a rough career choice, Kat, but you’ve got to be kidding me.”
“An internship with Stark could get you into whatever school or lab you want to get into anywhere in the world,” Grayson pointed out.
“Just know this, if you have any panic attacks or feel like you want to kill your boss, you can call me.”
“I tried calling you for the past week,” Kat pointed out.
Mike rolled his eyes. “Are you going to keep bringing that up?”
Before she could respond, her phone started ringing. Glancing down at the screen, she was startled to see Stark’s name appear. “I’ve got to take this,” she said, sliding out of her chair and racing out of the bar, leaving Mike and Grayson to themselves.
“So…” Mike said, watching Kat walk around the corner until he turned back to Grayson. “She likes you.”
Grayson raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about? No, she doesn’t.”
“Dude, come on, I’ve known her since she was like four. She’s never looked at a guy that way before. Though it’s kind of hard to tell, she’s never dated anyone before.” This caught Grayson’s interest, and Mike laughed. “I’m telling the truth. Here…” He leaned forward. “I’ll tell you about Kat Coulson.”
“Hi, Kat, sorry to call you on your night off. Listen, have you started mechanics lab yet?”
“I…no…I don’t even take that class…”
“Mr. Stark, I’m a biomedical engineer, not a mechanical engineer.”
There was a pause on the line, and for a few seconds, Kat was terrified that she had just lost her job. “Oh, yeah, that’s fine. Just wanted to check. I was going to see if I could give you more stuff to work on for this project, but…we’ll stick with the camera for now and see if you’re a fast learner.” Stark hung up without saying good-bye, which ticked Kat off a bit, but she forgave him fast. Pepper had said that he could be rude at times, even to people whom he did not wish to be rude to. It was just his nature. She would have to get used to it. She sighed. Stark was going to test her in more ways than one when she started on Monday. Turning back towards the bar, she stopped. Mike and Grayson had their heads together in quiet discussion, and she had a feeling that they were talking about her…
“Kat’s got the world on her shoulders, both literally and metaphorically. Now, I don’t usually tell people this, but, since I’ve known you for a while and I know you won’t run around to the wrong people with this information, I’ll let you in on the secret.”
Grayson lifted an eyebrow at Mike’s hushed tones and shifty eyes, as if he was about to give away the launch codes to every missile in the United States armory. “Do I have to have some sort of security clearance for this?”
“Technically, I’m supposed to get clearance from Coulson, but I think he’ll be fine with you knowing,” Mike said, further explaining, “Coulson works at SHIELD, a government organization that specializes in national defense on a different level. They’re sort of like the CIA, but much more effective and much more deadly. Following me so far?” At Grayson’s nod, he continued. “Have you ever heard of Aquapolians?”
Grayson frowned. The word seemed so familiar…but he couldn’t quite place it, so he answered, “No, I haven’t.”
“Well, neither has about 99% of the world’s population…and for a good reason. Now hang with me, because things are about to get really ridiculous. You’re not going to believe half of the stuff I say, but I want you to follow along, anyway,” Mike said as if he were teaching a new subject to a child. Grayson was fine with that. The subject had already started out on a super confusing line.
“The Aquapolian civilization was a race of people who lived on an island, Aquapolis, out in the Pacific Ocean about three thousand years ago. Now, these people are different from humans. Each individual had power over a specific element. Some could control fires. Other water. Others lightning and so on and so forth. It was a powerful, technologically advanced civilization. With me so far?”
Grayson nodded. Mike had been right. This seemed way too farfetched to be true, but it was a nice story anyway, so it caught his interest. Mike continued, his voice lowering as if this story held the secrets of the universe and he only wanted him and Grayson to be privy to this knowledge. “Okay. Now, you’ve imagined Aquapolis. Let me tell you about how the universe is set up.” Grayson shot him a look, and he said, “Stay with me, this is going somewhere.” He rounded up four packets of sugar and a cube of ice, placing the four packs on each side of the cube.
“So, the universe is made up of four realms, or dimensions,” Mike said, pointing to each packet in turn. “There’s Midgard, the realm of mortals, the dimension we live in. Asgard, the realm of immortals. Heaven, the realm of angels, and hell the realm of demons. Now, back to Aquapolis, which is in Midgard. Midgard was protected at that time by an angel named Quamachi, the Chosen One. And this is the myth I wanted to get around to telling you.”
“You mean, you’re just now getting to your point?” Grayson asked in a mock exasperated tone.
Mike laughed. “Hold on, this is the best part. Now, around three thousand years ago, Quamachi was invited by the king of Asgard, Odin, to spend a few centuries visiting there. Well, something went wrong and she ended up pissing him off royally, so he banished her from Asgard and destroyed the bridge between Asgard and Midgard, also unbalancing the universe enough to cause some very bad things to leak from Hell to Midgard. Basically, Hell is run by the Demon King. He pretty much ended up wiping the civilization off the map except for a handful of people.”
“So, Aquapolians survived?” Grayson asked, leaning closer. “Then that means…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, don’t jump ahead in the story,” Mike said, putting up his hands to stop his friend from asking any more questions. “Now, the last king of Aquapolis, Arthur Pendragon…”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Grayson leaned back in his seat. “Mike, you are terrible at making up stories.” He shook his head, not believing that he had been taken in by Mike’s supposedly true story. He had been suspicious when Odin’s name came up, but now…
“I told you it was hard to believe,” Mike said. “Let me finish the story before you start criticizing it. Now, the last king of Aquapolis gave up his life so that, in the future, the Aquapolian race would be able to return to their land once again. In addition, when the Aquapolians would need her the most, the Chosen One would be reincarnated and born as a mortal to help stop the race from dying out.” Mike leaned back in his seat, watching Grayson try to process this story in his head.
Finally, Grayson nodded in acknowledgement. “Wow, I have to say that was really good. You should write it down, make a novel series out of it. You’ll be famous.”
“Dude, it’s true.” Mike was rarely serious, but when he was, it showed clearly on his face. And now…Mike had his serious look on. Grayson paused. He had thought all along his friend was joking. But now?
“So, what exactly does this have to do with Kat?” Grayson asked, glancing out the window. He was startled to see her glancing back in at him. She froze, her brilliant blue eyes wide for a few seconds before she pretended that she was just standing there texting someone, though that alibi was awkward at best. Mike looked out just in time as Kat turned and walked around the corner. He frowned, then turned back to Grayson.
“What I’m saying is…Kat is the reincarnation of Quamachi. Kat is the Chosen One.”
21st May 2013, 6:36 AM
Grayson stared at Mike in complete silence for an entire three minutes before saying, “Kat is the Chosen One.” He lifted an eyebrow. “You’re saying that the girl whom Tony Stark has recently hired to be his assistant is the Chosen One.” This was almost too much. Mike was not one to believe this kind of stuff, but Grayson just couldn’t bring himself to imagine that it was true.
“Yeah…” Mike reached under his shirt and withdrew a pendant hanging from a thing string around his neck. It was a cross that was made out of a type of crystal Grayson had never seen before. The crystal changed through all sorts of blue and reminded him of Kat’s eyes, those eyes that changed color to fit her mood. “This is an Aquapolian pendent. All Aquapolians wore it back in the day. It’s made of Aquapolian crystal. The legends say that the Chosen One has eyes this same color.”
Some of the doubt was starting to fade away. Who, after all really had eyes the color of Kat’s? Mike waited for him to say something, so Grayson said, “So, is this supposed to be a glowing recommendation for me to ask her out? Because…” He shrugged his shoulders. “I had already intended on doing so.”
Mike cringed, obviously worried that he had just ruined any chance Kat and Grayson had of being together. “And how about now?” He asked hopefully.
“It doesn’t change my decision,” Grayson said, turning to the window where Kat had reappeared, awkwardly checking her phone. She looked up, and their eyes met. Grayson gave her a smile and a friendly wave, taking pleasure in the blush that crept across her face in the cool night air. He turned back to Mike. “So, how can you tell whether or not you’re Aquapolian.”
“Glad you asked,” Mike said, taking a business card out of his pocket as Kat finally decided to step into the bar again. Grayson hurridly shoved it into his pocket without looking at it as she approached.
“I’m sorry, but I really should be heading back,” she said awkwardly, making wild hand gestures towards the door.
“Is something wrong?” Mike asked, concerned…mostly because he thought she had overheard them talk about her…or that she wasn’t comfortable with Grayson knowning her secret.
“No, I’m just really tired after this week. Thank you for inviting me out, Grayson, and I’ll text you later, Mike.”
“Wait,” Grayson said before she could make her final good-byes. He stood up from his chair. “Let me walk you home.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble at all, don’t worry about it.”
“Kat…I live a floor below you.”
“No, but, I don’t want to spoil your evening. You guys have a lot of catching up to do.”
“It’s okay, Kat,” Mike said, shooting her a reassuring smile. “I need to get some rest, too. Jet lag and everything.”
A few minutes later, they had said their good-byes to Mike and were walking home. Kat was extremely anxious to get home without being asked any more questions…but, thankfully, Grayson kept silent all the way up to her door. “Thank you for walking me back,” she said, taking out her keys.
“My pleasure,” he responded with a smile. Kat was glad that it was dark and that he couldn’t see her blush as she fumbled with her keys. “Listen…I was wondering if you would like to come with me to the bookstore next week.”
“The bookstore?” She asked, turning away from her keys, extremely confused.
“Yes, I’m running low on reading material…and you seem like you’re a reader…I’d like to get some advice.”
“Oh, wow, yes, I love to read,” she said quickly, mentally kicking herself for her child-like answer.
“Great! I’ll stop by your office to set up a time later this week and to see how you’re holding up.” He said his good-bye and walked toward the elevators.
Kat couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. “Did Mike tell you about…um…you know…um…”
He turned around, studying her. “About you being the reincarnation of an angel?”
She blushed. “Yes. Yes, about that.”
“Is it true?”
“As far as I know, it is. I can fly, after all.”
He laughed at that until he realized that she was serious. “Wait, you can fly?”
“You may have to show me one day, because I don’t quite buy this ‘Chosen One’ business yet,” Grayson said in a teasing tone. “Good luck. I hope to see you next week.”
Kat lay in bed that night squirming with nervousness and excitement. He hadn’t seemed put off by Mike’s stories. He seemed to really like her. How could that be? She was awkward…so, so, awkward. Grayson was one of the best looking men she had ever seen in her life. He could have his pick of any girl in the world. Why would he choose her?
As she drifted off to sleep, one answer drifted to the front of her mind.
Because none of them were angels.
As per Stark’s instructions, Kat had dressed in jeans and a plain black t-shirt for work on Monday morning. This earned her several confused glances from office workers at the main office, but she didn’t care. Friday night’s events had disappeared from her mind, replaced with nervousness and anxiety as she slid into the backseat of the car Happy had drove up in to take her to Stark’s home. Pepper had been unable to make it for final words of encouragement, so the drive felt like a walk to the execution chamber.
Right before he drove off, Happy leaned out of the window to wish her good luck. Yes, THAT was encouraging. She stepped into the house, only to walk right into the kitchen and right into an ecstatic greeting from her boss.
Kat didn’t know what was more strange: Stark had made coffee (which he rarely ever did on his own, Pepper told her) or that he had made coffee and was offering HER some, even though SHE was the assistant. She stood there, dumbfounded, for a few minutes.
“It’s called…coffee…You drink it in the morning so that you can wake up and do science and stuff,” Stark said, trying to explain the function of coffee in as simple of terms as he could.
“I…um…I…” Very smooth, Kat. That was an intelligent sentence right there in front of your boss, who is a freaking GENIUS. “Um…thank you,” she finally managed to say, taking the cup that he offered her.
“Yeah, I thought I’d give you a break, it being your first day and all. I’ve been told I’m hard to work with, and Pepper threatened me with bodily harm if you ended up quitting because of me, so I’ll try to be nice.”
“Anyway, I don’t know if Pepper gave you a tour of the house, so this is the kitchen.” Stark waved dismissively at the kitchen. “There’s the living room. Bathroom. Spare room. Bedroom. Downstairs is where you’ll be working the most, which is the shop. Follow me.”
Once they got downstairs, Stark typed something into the main computer and a 3D schematic started forming in mid-air over the floor of the shop. “Okay, this is Project Super Secret…”
“Project Super Secret?” Kat asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Hey, if you’ve got a better name for it, we’ll call it that, but right now, it’s Project Super Secret. Now, as I’m sure your uncle knows, there are a few…details…of my escape from captivity that no one knows yet. As in, how I actually escaped captivity.”
“I thought it was a military mission.”
“Nope, you are wrong. I escaped all on my own. Using this.” The schematics changed to show a large, metal humanoid suit.
“You built that?” Kat asked, staring at it. “Out of what?”
“Bits and pieces I found. I had some help…Anyway, I want to build a better, sleeker version of it…and I’m going to need your help.”
“You want me to document the process?”
“That and make sure I don’t die.”
“There is a high possibility for that to happen.”
“Well, think of it this way, if I die, you are out of a job. So, keep me alive so you can keep your job.”
“Okay, then…where do we start?”
“So, you’re up for doing this?”
“Do I have a choice?”
He thought about that for a few minutes. “Not really. But…” He shrugged. “It’s going to be fun.”
For the next few hours, Kat watched Stark as he perfected the schematic, making a slimmer, sleeker version of the suit and adding in bits and pieces here and there. He asked her opinion from time to time, but Kat could hardly give an informed one. This wasn’t really her area of expertise.
Finally, they stopped for lunch. Kat was going to run back to the office to get some things straightened up, but Stark stopped her. “Hey, do you like pizza?”
“Yes, generally, I do,” she said, confused.
“Do you like Hawaiian pizza?”
“Good, because I don’t, either,” he said, taking out his cell phone. Kat watched him as he placed an order for a pizza delivery. When he hung up, he said, “Comes with the job. Coffee, pizza, fooling around with awesome technology.”
“Wow, this job has some real perks.”
“Well, other than some of the boring legal stuff, this job won’t be much work. Just stick around, make sure I don’t kill myself, run little errands, but other than that,” he shrugged. “I’m a cool boss, though Pepper doesn’t seem to think so.”
“Did you ever let Pepper assist you in the shop?”
“Nope. Well, she was never interested in it.”
“What a shame. It really shows how cool of a boss you are.”
Kat was already starting to feel comfortable around Stark. Really, he wasn’t hard to get along with. Then again, he DID say he was going to give her a break on day one.
They sat around the kitchen eating pizza a few minutes later. “Anyway, the only boring part of the job is running down to legal,” Stark paused. “Which I’m sure won’t be so boring since Grayson Strauss works there.”
Kat nearly choked on the Coke she had been drinking. “Any particular reason why Mr. Strauss working there wouldn’t make it boring?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. He seems interested in you. Pepper said he wasn’t, but I called it.”
“Were you the one who told Happy to tell me that Grayson is single?”
“Isn’t there like company policy that you can’t date within the company?”
“Technically, there might be, but I don’t really think it’s enforced. At least, I’M not going to enforce it, and, in the end, my word is law.”
There were a few moments of silence, before Kat asked, “So, where do we start?”
“Why don’t we work on the thrusters first? The suit is going to be extra boring if it can’t fly.”
“This one,” Kat said, retrieving a large novel from the fantasy and science fiction section. “This is a really good series.”
Grayson looked at it closely, laughing and raising his eyebrows. “Game of Thrones? Can you be any more of a nerd?” She acted as if she were about to punch him, and he quickly retracted his statement. “No, no, I’m kidding, I’ve heard it’s really good. I’ll try it.”
By the time they got to the cash register, both of them had huge armfuls of books. Grayson insisted on carrying Kat’s bags back to her apartment. “How was your first week with Stark?”
She paused for a few moments before answering, “He’s surprisingly a lot more easy to work with than everyone says he is.”
“If he likes you, he keeps the teasing and sarcasm to a low level…as much as he can,” Grayson laughed. “So, after week one, you’ve decided to stay after all?”
“Looks like it.”
“That’s…great…” He stopped in front of Kat’s door, hesitating as Kat unlocked it and reached to take her bag of books from him. “Listen…Kat, I…don’t know exactly how to ask this, but…” He ducked his head, awkwardly stepping from one foot to the other before he looked up, fixing her with those brilliant turquoise eyes of his. “Would you like to go out with me sometime?”
She was struck speechless for a few moments, then accidently dropped her bag, books falling all over the place. “Oh, great, just great…” She muttered, dropping to her knees to pick them up. Grayson knelt down to help her, his face only inches away from hers. He turned to hand her a book, then paused. Kat stopped breathing, feeling the tension in the room. Just as he leaned closer to her, her phone rang.
“I…um…” She dug into her pocket, producing her phone. As she answered it, Grayson motioned that he would pick up her books and put them into her apartment. “Hello?”
She had not yet wanted to strangle her boss, but at that moment, she definitely itched to march over to his Malibu home and push him off of the edge of the cliff. Trying to keep her voice steady and cheerful, she answered, “Hi, Mr. Stark. What can I do for you?”
“I finished the thrusters and want to get a head start on testing them. You have a couple of hours you can spare? Won’t keep you out all night, I know it’s Friday and you probably have some awesome party to go to.”
Kat couldn’t tell whether that was sarcasm or him being serious, so she decided to ignore the last part of his monologue. “Yeah, I can head over right now. Just give me a few minutes.”
The phone clicked off, and Kat fought the urge to throw it at the wall. At any other time, she would have cheerfully made her way over to her boss’ house, but she had been so close…SO CLOSE. Now, she silently hoped Stark would break a leg during testing that night.
“Grayson, I’m sorry, I need to head over to Stark’s house for a few hours. He wants me to run an errand for him,” she said, putting on the most apologetic look she could find as she stepped into her apartment. The books she had spilled were placed in a careful stack on the table. Her heart sank. He had even had the time to alphabetize them as he was waiting.
“I understand. Would you like a ride over to his house, by any chance?” Grayson asked politely. His smile made her want to run out of the apartment and slam the door, though that didn’t make any sense, because it was HER apartment, and she would have to return to it eventually.
“No, I’ll just walk over, but thank you, though.” His driving her over there would be really awkward after the encounter they had just had.
“Doing a little bit of flying tonight, aren’t we?” He said playfully as he headed towards the door.
“It’s the best time of the day to do it. Not many people notice me, especially if I’m wearing all black,” she joked back.
“Be safe,” he said before exiting the apartment. She took a deep breath and turned back to study her books, wondering if she really SHOULD fly instead of walk because Malibu could be dangerous for a girl at night. All of a sudden, she heard footsteps behind her. She turned around just as Grayson gently grabbed her shoulder, turned her face up towards his and kissed her warmly. All thoughts of murdering her boss flew out of her head for a few moments.
Finally, Grayson pulled away from her, smiling. “I apologize. I just…I just had to try…”
Before he could convince himself that she wasn’t interested, Kat instantly jumped in, “Why are you apologizing?” She smiled. “The answer…by the way…before we were interrupted…is yes. I would like to go out with you.” She was amazed at the relief that filled his eyes, and she instantly felt dizzy.
Grayson Strauss, stunning, smart, polite, kind, British gentleman as he was, was interested in going out with HER, Kat Coulson. The same Kat Coulson who had never had a boyfriend, was awkward in social situations, and seemed only to really get along with quirky lawyers and geniuses who had a propensity for crazy ideas. What was more, he was STILL interested in her after he had heard the entire crazy story of how she was the Chosen One. He seemed to believe it, which was even better.
She instantly felt a wave of terror crash over her. What if she messed this up? What if he decided she really was too awkward or crazy or whatever or that he didn’t want to actually get involved with a girl who could fly?
“Are you okay?”
Kat practically jumped at his question, startled our of her thoughts. She realized that she must have paled at the thought of messing this up. Grayson was looking at her with great concern in his eyes. “Ah…I…I think I might be late…and…um…” She started making her way towards the door. He awkwardly followed her, aware that he needed to leave the apartment before she did so that she could lock the front door.
They spent a few more awkward moments in the elevator as it descended and stopped at Grayson’s floor. He turned to her for a few moments, before saying, “I apologize for being so…um…awkward in asking you out, it’s just…I was afraid you already had someone else or that you weren’t interested…and I wasn’t quite sure how to voice it…and…yes…”
The realization that Grayson had had the same reaction – that Kat Coulson was interested in going out with HIM – made relief suddenly crash over her. HE had been afraid she was taken. So, really, they were both standing there, secretly liking each other and too awkward to say anything.
“So…have fun working with Stark tonight, and…I’ll see you next week…” Before he actually left the elevator, he turned back around. Kat thought he was going to kiss her again, but, instead, he kissed her softly on the cheek and left. For some reason, this gesture was so much sweeter, and Kat spent the rest of the elevator ride feeling light with happiness.
“What took you so long, I expected you here like an hour ago,” Stark said as she stepped into the shop.
She sighed. “Mr. Stark, you just called me half an hour ago.”
“Hm…so the telepathy isn’t working yet…”
“That could be your next project,” she said as she watched him place both thrusters on his feet. She picked up the video camera on one of the nearby benches.
“Yeah, you just press that button there,” he said, pointing to the record button.
“I know how to work a video camera, Mr. Stark,” she said patiently, switching it on. He threw both of his hands up into the air as if to say okay, you got this. She took a few steps back and centered it on him. “Tell me when to start it.”
“Oh, just start it whenever. We can edit out the swearing and stuff later.”
She laughed and pressed the button. “Okay, you’re on.”
“Okay…” In a louder voice, he said, “We’re going to start at 10% capacity, see where that gets us. And…now.” There was a click, but nothing happened.
“Well, that didn’t work,” she observed.
“That’s the beauty of science. Find out what doesn’t work and do the exact opposite. Okay, let’s see…let’s do 60% capacity.”
“That’s an awful large jump…”
“I agree with Miss Coulson, sir, that is a considerable difference between two consecutive tests.”
“Okay, both of you stop talking and let me handle this. 60% capacity…And…3…2…1..”
The effect was explosive and he went flying into the back of the shop wall with a crash. Kat dropped the video camera with a gasp as she ran to see if he was okay. Stark lay on the shop floor, groaning and holding his head in his hands. “Are you okay?!” She practically squeaked as she stood over him.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Stark said, wincing as he held an ice pack to his head.
“I should take you to a hospital. You might have a concussion,” Kat protested. She paused. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
He grimaced. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Question is, are you okay?”
“You really freaked out on me back there.”
“Yeah, well, I just watched my boss almost kill himself right in front of my eyes, of course I freaked out.”
There was a pause. “Listen, just go home, calm down, get some rest.”
“What if you have a concussion?”
“I’m pretty sure I don’t have a concussion.”
“But what if you do and I go home and you end up getting serious brain damage and…”
“Yes, Mr. Stark?”
“Go home. I’ll call you if I start to feel dizzy or like I’m about to pass out, okay?”
She paused, reluctant to go. “Okay…” She sighed.
“Listen…once we take this out for a test flight, I’m going to need your back up so that I end up giving myself more than a concussion.”
She paused, choosing her words carefully. “What do you mean, back up?”
“Like, you come out on the test flight with me. That’s going to make for some awesome test footage, I’ll tell you that right now.” She froze, her heart skipping a beat. He sighed, standing up from where he was sitting. “Your Uncle Phil told me. Kind of an occupational hazard…well, actually, it’s one of the things that helped you get the job in the first place.”
She raised an eyebrow. “So you want me to work as your bodyguard now?”
“No, just make sure I don’t crash into the Earth if the thrusters malfunction and I fall out of the sky.”
Kat sighed. “Do you need anything else, Mr. Stark?”
Stark paused, hesitating as if he were about to say something, until he shook his head. “See you on Monday. We’ll work on stabilizers then.”
She started to leave until she thought of something, turning back to him. “The hands.”
“Put the stabilizers in the hands.”
“Come on, Kat, I know you can do better than that.”
Kat fought to catch her breath as Barton turned the treadmill up to a higher speed. “God, you’re out of shape,” he complained, sighing. She gritted her teeth, determined to show him that she could still match up to her previous tests.
The door to the gym opened, and Kat froze as Grayson stepped in. She lost her footing and started to careen backwards. With one lightning-fast motion, Barton caught her around the stomach and swung her off of the treadmill before she could land on her face. She stood there panting as her mentor glared down at her and as Grayson made his way around the equipment to see if she was all right.
“That was…impressive,” he said to Barton once he determined Kat was just out of breath.
“She can go a lot faster once she’s in top shape.”
“No, I meant…that catch was impressive.” Grayson glanced at the speed on the treadmill and took a double take. “Don’t you think that’s a bit fast?”
“She can run twice that fast on a good day,” Barton said defensively. Kat stood up straight and shot him a glare.
“Is this all part of the…um…training…?” Grayson asked awkwardly. Barton looked from Kat to Grayson and back to Kat again, who nodded to let him know that Grayson knew who she was.
Barton sighed. “He’s not supposed to have that level clearance, Kat.”
“Yes, I know,” she sighed, shaking her head. “Mike was the one who told him.”
“You know Mike Ross?” Barton asked, turning to Grayson, his eyes focused on him in a steely glare. Kat knew that this was the question that would probably save Grayson from being killed by the agent, who was already on edge because Kat wasn’t reaching her top speeds.
“Yes, we met when I was applying for jobs at law firms in New York,” Grayson said, trying to keep his voice calm as if he had nothing to hide…which he really didn’t, but interrogations from SHIELD agents often made you question your own validity.
Barton, however, took this as a sign that Grayson checked out at face value. “Clint Barton,” he said, offering his hand for Grayson to shake. “I’m a family friend of Kat’s.”
“Grayson Strauss.” The young lawyer shook the agent’s hand. “I’m Mr. Stark’s lawyer…” He trailed off, not sure how to exactly state his and Kat’s relationship. He was right to hesitate of course. They couldn’t quite yet be called boyfriend and girlfriend. They were still getting past the “hey, I like you, and you may possibly like me, too, but this is really awkward” stage.
“I’m sure Mike’s told you plenty about Kat,” Barton said, encompassing the entirety of the myths of Aquapolis in one statement, not exactly including any of Kat’s personal information.
“Yes, I was wondering…is there a way you can tell if you’re…”
“There’s a blood test. We look at your DNA. Actually some researchers at Kat’s college that are doing a sort of genome project to sequence the DNA. You live upstairs, right? I could come by tomorrow, send the blood off. By the end of next week, you’ll know.”
Kat and Grayson stared at Barton, who had been so reluctant to trust Grayson a mere three minutes beforehand, but was now spouting all of this information. Kat knew, however, that her mentor was a seasoned agent. Once he made a judgement call on whether or not to trust someone, it was valid and he stuck to it.
As Barton discussed particulars with Grayson, Kat went over to the exercise mats and flopped down, staring at the ceiling and going over the details of the last night’s events again, from Grayson kissing her to her boss’s near-death experience. Stark hadn’t called the night before to ask her to take him to the hospital, so, she assumed, he was perfectly fine.
The conversation grew to a stop, but she continued to stare at the ceiling, nearly jumping a few inches when Grayson flopped down beside her. She looked up to see that Barton had left the gym. They were the only ones there.
“For a second there, I thought he was going to kill me,” Grayson said, chuckling, though it was a bit nervously. There was some intense fact behind those words, and both of them had noticed Barton’s extreme tenseness towards Grayson’s knowing Kat’s secret.
“He almost did,” Kat agreed. “But, I think knowing Mike helped. Mike has a way of…um…leaking information to people without security clearance. Not to anyone who may tell it to someone dangerous just…” She shrugged. “He can run his own security clearance on people and discover them trustworthy and it throws Uncle Phil and Barton off guard sometimes.”
“I am serious about finding out whether or not I’m a…” He looked around the gym. No one was there, of course, but he lowered his voice as if he were whispering the biggest secret in the world. “Whether or not I’m an Aquapolian.” She laughed, and he turned to her. “You have to show me your powers sooner or later. Especially flying. I want to see you fly,” he said, a bit wistfully. Kat turned a bit to see those turquoise eyes looking back at her, filled with a bit of awe.
“Sometime,” she agreed. “IF you turn out to be an Aquapolian,” she teased. He put on a look of mock distress.
“What, so Muggles aren’t able to witness the amazing powers of the Chosen One?”
Kat laughed. “I’m pretty sure the term is ‘humans’ and in THAT accent, you just made that entire sentence ten times more funny.”
“Are you making fun of my accent, now? Is that what you’re doing now? Because that’s low, for me, especially, because I COULD tease you about your accent, but I won’t.” He gave her another one of those smiles that made her want to bury her head into the mat. “Your accent is cute.”
She groaned as he continued. “No, it really is.” He rolled over to his side, facing her. “Would you like to come by my apartment and just…hang out tonight?” She paused, considering his offer, and completely caught off guard when he grimaced. “Wait, is it too early…can I not ask you to come over…? Fine, can I come over to your place…? Wait, that’s not right, either.”
“What are you talking about?” She asked, confused as to why he was getting confused over where they would hang out. His apartment, her apartment, it didn’t really matter to her, but there were STEPS to this entire process, but she was depending on him to know them.
“I…not this early, we can’t meet at each other’s places…I don’t think…unless you’re comfortable with that. I don’t know,” he placed his hands over his face and groaned. “I’ve never done this before, so…”
“Wait…” Kat sat up, leaning back on her elbows. “Exactly what have you not done before?”
“I haven’t…” Grayson threw his hands up into the air as he confessed, “I’ve never had a girlfriend before. There, I said it. You can make fun of me, now.” She stared at him, aghast for a few moments. “What? What is it?”
“No, it’s just that…I can’t…I don’t believe it…” She stuttered. There was no way GRAYSON STRAUSS had never had a girlfriend before. NO WAY in the world. “Come on, you have got to have gone out with a girl at least once before now.”
He shook his head. “No. None of them…I have never really been interested before…” Kat wasn’t used to not being the most awkward person in the room, but if Grayson thought her awkwardness was as cute as she thought his was, then that was great.
She sighed. “Truth is…I’ve never had a boyfriend before,” she confessed, though that was really more likely a story.
“You’re kidding me,” he said with all sincerity, turning to look at her. “Well, then…I guess neither of us knows what to do…” They laughed awkwardly. “But, no, seriously, would you like to hang out with me tonight?” He thought for a second. “Do you like pizza?”
“Are you kidding me? I’m a college student, remember? What kind of question was that?”
“Well, if you would stop berating me over the question, could you give me a simple answer?”
She turned towards him, feeling content and comfortable lying next to him…more so than she had with anyone else in her life. “Yes…” She said with a smile. “I love pizza.”
27th May 2013, 4:08 AM
By the middle of the next week, Stark had both the repulsers and the stabilizers working and was able to fly them around with relative ease within the workshop. Kat was surprised by how patient he was, especially when her lack of mechanical knowledge caused a slowdown of the process as she had to continually ask him what certain pieces of the equipment were called and where they went.
At one point, he even sat down with her and went over all of the electrical wiring that made up the stabilizers, carefully pointing out each piece and how it fit into the big picture. The next day, when Kat made an error in identifying one of the pieces, without making a snarky or sarcastic comment, Stark repeated its function for her, and, after several embarrassed apologies from her, just waved it off with a, “Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it. And even if you don’t, don’t worry, I got this.”
Several times, Stark sent her to legal to fetch documents, purely so that he didn’t have to bother to go by his office and actually sign them, to Pepper’s aggravation. Kat would run into her in the main offices and ask about her fiancé, who did fantastic genetics work. Pepper promised to ask him to come by and talk to Kat eventually, but he had been and would be working in Japan up until their wedding the next year, so that would have to be put off. When Kat answered Pepper’s questions about work, the older woman was stunned by the level of enthusiasm Kat had, further solidifying her theory that Kat was the perfect one for the job.
Most of all, however, Kat enjoyed going down to legal because it meant seeing Grayson, who was now, albeit awkwardly announced and never really said but presumed by both parties, her boyfriend. On the odd day that Stark or her own incompetence was driving her crazy, Grayson’s jokes, sweet words, and just his smile made her day instantly better.
Every once in a while, Kat would catch Grayson on an off day at work, especially just after his meetings with Stane. After Stark had returned from his months in captivity, he had announced that the company was going to turn away from the weapons trade and focus on the energy race, which would be powered by the arc reactor currently sitting in the main Stark Industries factory.
Stane had been less than pleased and was negotiating for various stocks and claims to the company in order to keep his hold on his spot as Stark’s partner. Grayson, who was fiercely loyal to Stark and who resented Stane’s underlying plan of eventually getting Stark kicked out of his position, was never in a good mood after he had had a meeting with the partner.
On those days, Kat tried to be careful, even though she could see that Grayson was struggling to smile and pretend nothing was wrong. Finally, after one such meeting with Stane, Grayson literally dragged her outside for a walk during his lunch period, ranting about the partner to her as they wandered around the factory. This was the first time Kat had ever seen Grayson truly mad at someone. By the end of his ramblings, he was shaking badly from rage. Kat wrapped her arm around his, lacing her fingers through his to help him calm down. Finally, his breathing slowed, and he gave her his usual warm smile and thanked her, kissing her lightly on the cheek before they headed back to his office.
And life continued like this for the next few weeks, Kat running back and forth from legal, sweating through her training sessions with Barton (he had sent Grayson’s blood off for test results. Grayson WAS Aquapolian, but his type hadn’t been identified yet), spending weekends reading or spending time with Grayson, and, finally aiding Stark in his workshop. There, she spent time making coffee, staying up late to help work on odds and ends for the suit, and, most of the time, simply keeping him company as he worked.
The more time she spent around Stark, the more surprised she became at how comfortable she was around him and how she actually enjoyed working with him. Beneath his brash and sarcastic exterior, Stark was a patient mentor and a caring person, never failing to ask how Kat’s weekend had been or (sometimes to her annoyance) how Grayson was, even if he had just seen his lawyer a few hours beforehand.
And, finally, that day came for the first flight.
“We’re testing the flight system out, not robbing the Louvre.”
Kat rolled her eyes as she pulled on a pair of black gloves. She was covered head to toe in black, though she had neglected to put on a black hat or mask, opting out of having to hear Stark call her Batgirl or anything else similar to that. “This is just so that I don’t get spotted. It’ll be harder to see me.”
“Yeah, as if the silver metal suit flying around isn’t going to look suspicious enough.”
“You can explain away the suit. You can’t explain away someone being able to fly without any technological help,” she pointed out. He nodded slightly, his movements restricted by the suit. Kat had to admit it looked amazing, and, though she had walked through the entire process with Stark, there was now was no way in a million years she could have built it on her own. He truly was a genius.
Stark finally placed the helmet over his head, turning on the visual screen in front of him and testing out JARVIS and the sound over the transmitter to the communicator in Kat’s ear. “Can you hear me?” He said a bit too loudly.
“Ouch. Yes, yes I can,” Kat said.
“Okay. Camera on?”
“Great. Test flight number one...commencing once I actually see you fly.”
“Fly. Like, I want to make sure you can really fly before I go out on what could very well be a suicide mission.”
She sighed, allowing herself to defy gravity a bit. “Happy?”
“That’s more like levitation. Can you really fly?”
“Excuse me. Real life person levitating in front of you and you’re still concerned that I can fly?”
“Yeah, it’s really impressive. Bravo. Let’s go.”
Stark led the way, shooting off through the exit from the garage and into the sky, Kat following behind him, keeping the camera centered on him. The flight was a whirlwind of madness and adrenaline as they soared through the Malibu sky, Stark testing out the flight system and pretty much making Kat deaf with his excited shouts.
“Okay, let’s see how high we can go. How high can you go?”
“As long as we’re not in space, I’m fine.”
They climbed and climbed, Kat feeling the air start to get sucked from her lungs. Suddenly, Stark stopped in midair. Kat watched as the front of the suit froze up, causing it to lose power. A few seconds later, Stark was falling at top speed through the air back towards the ground. Kat forgot about the camera for a second and spun down after him, grabbing his arm and leveling out just enough so that she didn’t pull it from the socket. She slowed their descent until they came to rest on the roof of the house.
“Wow…wow…” Stark said, stripping the helmet off and throwing it to the ground. “Do you always get that kind of rush flying around?”
“Yeah, every time. Usually not the rush when someone falls out the sky, but yes, it’s fun.”
Stark turned to study Kat for a few moments. “Damn, you’re strong.”
“Thanks, I work out,” she joked.
“No, like, stronger than the suit strong. That’s impressive.”
She shrugged. “It comes with the territory.”
They stood in silence for a little bit, looking up at the clear night sky. Stark seemed as if he wanted to say something, but he held back. Kat stared off across the ocean at an island on the horizon. “Next time, let’s fly out to that island.”
“That island.” She pointed. “That one right there.”
“There’s no island out there, Kat,” he said, not even turning to look.
She frowned. “Yes, there is.”
“I’ve lived on this cliff for the past twenty years. Trust me, there is no island out the…” He stopped when he turned around. “Well, I’ll be damned…where did that come from?”
“What do you mean?”
He pointed to it. “That island was not there before. That…” He frowned. “What the hell?”
“It’s been there ever since I got here. Maybe you’ve never noticed it before now.”
“Yeah, maybe…” He muttered thoughtfully. “Okay, next test flight, we’ll take it out there.”
The loud knock on Kat’s door made her slip on her heels hurriedly and rush to the door, nearly falling and slamming into Grayson when she opened it. “Sorry, sorry, I ran out of time.”
“Kat, we’re already going to be twenty minutes early.”
“Yes, well, I need to be there yesterday, so let’s go.”
“Kat…” He paused, placing both hands on her shoulders. “It’s going to be fine.”
Grayson looked extremely handsome in the tux he was wearing to the benefit. Stark Industries held a philanthropic benefit once a year. Pepper was the one who handled all of the details, but Kat needed to be there in case Stark needed anything.
Then again, Stark hadn’t actually attended the benefit in years, so, really, she was worrying over nothing.
“You look beautiful,” Grayson said as Kat looped her arm through his and they walked towards the elevator. Kat had adopted for a dark blue halter dress that brought out the shade that her eyes took when she was happy.
“Thank you. You look beautiful, too,” she said before she realized her choice of words. Grayson laughed, which put her at ease. They had been dating for a few months now, and the awkwardness was starting to fade.
September had come faster than Kat had expected. The months had flown by with test flights, coffee runs, and more as Stark’s secret project neared completion. He had eventually opted for red and gold paint for the suit, and they had done several test flights…but none yet to the mysterious island that Stark still claimed had not been there a few months before. Kat could have chosen to return to school for the fall semester, but with the end of the project so near, Stark had practically begged for her to stay. And that was saying something. Tony Stark NEVER begged for anything.
“What do you want to do for your birthday?” Grayson asked once they got into the elevator. Kat’s birthday was at the end of the week.
She shrugged. “Nothing special, really, I mean…We could do anything…” Really, all she wanted was to spend a quiet night in with him. Barton had gone out of town for something, and Coulson was not going to be able to make it in time to celebrate with them.
“Thanks, Kat, that is really specific. Gives me so many ideas,” he said sarcastically as the elevator doors opened. “Really, though, name one thing you would like to do or want on your birthday.”
“Okay. You.” Then, when she realized that her answer fit with the first part of his request in a way too suggestive manner, she groaned with embarrassment. “I mean, I want you, not…” She waved her hand as he laughed, pulling her closer and placing a kiss on her cheek.
The benefit was crowded, but they easily found Pepper amongst the crowd. She looked stunning in a light green dress that flowed to the floor around her. Kat secretly wished for her height. God, she hated being short. Grayson was a full foot taller than her, even when she was in heels.
“Well, there’s a larger turnout this year…Guess people are really hoping he shows up,” Pepper said, smiling. “Kat, I have someone I would like for you to meet…actually, he’s been dying to talk to you. I didn’t expect for him to be back in the States so early, but he’ll be here for the next few weeks…” Pepper looked around, frowning.
“You must be Grayson Strauss.”
They turned to see a man around Pepper’s age with tan skin and blonde hair. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said, shaking Grayson’s hand. “Keeping Stark’s assets together after what happened a few months ago…you must be a miracle worker.”
“Oh, Grayson, Kat, this is my fiancé, Aldrich Killian. Aldrich, you apparently know Grayson. This is Kat Coulson, Tony’s assistant,” Pepper said, introducing them.
“Pepper told me that you’re a biomedical engineer,” Killian said, shaking Kat’s hand. “We have a lot to talk about. I’m in the field of genetics myself. If you ever have a chance for me to steal you away from Stark Industries, let me know. Our research team could use you.”
Kat was about to respond when she spotted Stark across the room. The group turned to him, astonished looks on their faces. “What?” He asked, stepping up and shaking Killian’s hand. “Am I not allowed to show up to my own party?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at the benefit, now that I think about it,” Killian said. “This must be a special year.” He glanced over at Kat pointedly. Confused, she looked from Stark to Killian and then back to her boss again. There was some unknown conversation going on between the two of them. Some history she was unaware of.
Grayson’s tugging on her arm brought her out of her thoughts. “Would you like to dance?” He asked cheerfully. Pepper smiled encouragingly before excusing herself to go and grab a drink. It seemed as if everyone in the group had silently agreed that leaving Stark and Killian to have a private conversation was for the best.
“Of course, I’d love to,” she said, glancing over at Stark, who was watching her with a strange expression on his face. She wondered what was up with him lately. Over the past week, he had been quiet and thoughtful, not saying much in the lab as they worked, and, overall, just plain moody. Kat had looked up several times from her work to see him studying her, an expression on his face that looked like he wanted to say something, but he never ended up doing so.
Once Grayson had pulled Kat away, Stark asked, “So, let me guess, you’re here for funds.” He said it a bit bitterly as if he didn’t really wish to give Killian any money for research at all, even thought his project had originally been started by Howard Stark and was a cause Stark greatly believed in.
“No, actually, I’m here for scientists.”
“Well, you came to the right place.”
“The lab is expanding, and we need more workers.”
“You’ll have to put them through a security check and blood test first. I don’t know that many Aquapolian scientists.”
“I was thinking of recruiting undergrads from Caltech, M.I.T., preferably Georgia Tech, closer to home.”
“You mean Tokyo?”
Killian smiled. “Sooner or later, I’m going to have to let Pepper know I spend most of my time in Atlanta, won’t I?”
Stark thought for a few moments before saying, “Yeah, I’ve got some engineers who are Aquapolian. I can spare one or two.”
Killian nodded, turning to watch Kat and Grayson dance. “It’s amazing how much she looks like Caroline,” he said before walking off, leaving Stark to his thoughts. As soon as Kat and Grayson finished dancing, Stark walked up to the younger man. “I’m going to steal your boyfriend for like, five minutes,” he said to Kat. She sighed. “I promise, I’ll give him back. You have my word.”
“Okay…” She said, turning to go and speak to Pepper. Stark and Grayson withdrew to a silent corner.
“There’s a file that’s going to be delivered to your office on Thursday. Don’t open it. Just come straight to me at nine that night. Extremely sensitive business.”
“Nothing illegal, I hope.”
“No…just a matter that needs to be settled…and soon,” he said, glancing at someone across the room. Grayson followed his line of sight to see Stane speaking to several people.
“Okay, I’ll be there at nine.”
“Don’t be late. It’s serious.” With that, Stark turned and walked out of the party.
Grayson walked into his office Thursday morning to see the large envelope on his desk. That night, he went immediately to Stark’s house, walking into the workshop with the file under his arm. “You’re early,” Stark complained when he stepped in.
Grayson sighed. “I’m sorry. I was trying not to be late for this serious meeting,” he said as he handed the file to Stark.
His boss looked from the file and back to Grayson. “You open it,” he said, turning back to the computer screen as if he was forgetting that his lawyer was even there. Grayson tore open the file and started reading its contents, freezing after the first few pages.
He stood in a shocked silence for a while before asking, “Does she know this?”
“Not yet. I’m going to tell her tomorrow. Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone, understand?” Stark fixed him with a serious look.
Grayson nodded, still shocked. “How…what do you want me to do with this information?”
“Due to recent events, I’d like to re-write my will. In that folder contains everything you need to prove she’s my legitimate daughter and that she has a claim to my portion of the company.”
“So…Let me get this straight…You’re going to tell her, on her birthday, that you’re her father?”
“That’s the plan…” He paused, a sort of worried look flashing across his face. “You’ve known her in a non-work context for the past few months. How do you think she’s going to react?” He paused. “Is she going to hate me?”
Grayson was taken aback by how worried he was. “I…I’m not quite sure how she’ll react, but…I’m pretty sure she’s not going to hate you. Kat doesn’t really have the capacity to hate many people…and after everything you’ve done for her…” He shrugged. “She’ll be a bit pissed off for the first week, but after that…”
“Thanks,” Stark said, returning to his computer. “Hopefully, my confession won’t spoil whatever plans you have for tomorrow night.”
Grayson paused before leaving. “May I ask…”
“Caroline. She was murdered when Kat was three months old.”
The next day, Kat showed up at Stark’s house to find him standing in the kitchen, drinking coffee. A cake was sitting on the counter, a little lopsided, but overall not bad-looking. Kat studied it with suspicion. It said “Happy Birthday, Kat.” “Did you…did you make this?”
“Maybe…” He said suspiciously.
“I’m not quite sure if I should eat that…”
“It’s not like I poisoned it or anything,” he continued in his suspicious voice. “Why would I wait a whole four months to poison you?”
“I don’t know…” She shrugged. “Maybe since you’re finished with the project, you’re worried that I might give away the secret, so you’re going to kill me.”
“Maybe…But most likely not…”
“Okay, yes, this is awkward…”
“That your boss baked you a birthday cake or that you think your boss is trying to poison you?”
“I’m going to go with the first one.”
“So, do you want a piece or not?”
She winced. “I don’t think I like the idea of you with a knife. Let me cut it.”
“So, I was thinking of flying out to the mysterious island today. You want to go?” Stark asked a few minutes later while they were eating cake and drinking coffee.
“Yeah, sure, let’s do it.”
Kat was a little nervous about flying during the day, but Stark finally convinced her that it was fine and that people would more likely be distracted by the flying metal suit he would be in. Stark tried to outfly her on the way to the island, but Kat had none of that, spinning through the air and overcoming Stark easily.
When they neared the island, Kat got a strange feeling in her stomach, as if they had crossed some invisible barrier. Stark didn’t seem to notice it. They touched down on the island amongst some trees. Almost immediately, Kat’s phone started ringing.
“Hey, you’re supposed to silence your cell phone before going on a adventure,” Stark complained.
“Sorry…” She said, answering it. “Hello?”
“Happy Birthday!” It was Grayson.
“Would you like to grab something at lunch together?”
“I…actually, I won’t be able to.”
“Oh…okay…” She could hear the disappointment in his voice.
“I’m sorry…just really busy at work today. I’ll see you tonight, right?”
“Yes, of course! Have a good day.”
“Was that your boyfriend?” Stark asked when she hung up.
She sighed. “Yes, it was…” She said, turning back towards where they had just flown from Stark’s house.
And then she froze.
Everything in front of her eyes was clear, blue ocean. Stark’s house…Malibu…None of it was in sight. Stark turned to see what she was looking at as well, his eyes widening when he couldn’t see his house from there.
“JARVIS…” He said after a while. “Where are we…?”
“My calculations say that we are five hundred miles off of the coast of Japan.”
“Ha. No, really, JARVIS.”
“My calculations seem to be correct, sir.”
Stark and Kat stood there for what seemed like forever. This didn’t seem quite correct. They had just been in Malibu five minutes ago…and now they were off the coast of Japan?
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Stark asked, still staring out at the ocean in front of them.
“If you’re thinking we should fly back the way we came and see if we end up back in Malibu within the next few minutes, then, yes, I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”
Without further debate, they took off back in the direction they had flown from. Before their eyes, after another few minutes, Malibu appeared in front of them, including Stark’s house on the cliff. They landed on Stark’s roof, turning back around instantly to see that the island was still there.
“Can you explain to me what just happened?” Stark asked, stunned. “Did we just go through like a portal or something or…what just happened?”
“I don’t know…”
“You’re supposed to be the Chosen One. You’re supposed to know these things.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t know…”
“Okay, I elect that we go eat cake and forget about what just happened for the sake of our sanity. We tell no one and never bring this up again, understood? Otherwise, they’ll really put both of us in the nuthouse.”
Kat had to agree with her boss. Cake sounded a lot better than trying to figure out why they had just teleported from Malibu to Japan and back again. Coulson and Barton had mentioned a few times that she could teleport, but this…this wasn’t her…
“I should have given you the day off, shouldn’t I?”
Kat looked up from her phone, where she was absentmindedly checking the weather. She and Stark were sitting around the downstairs workshop, really not doing anything. They had been sitting here just talking about random stuff for hours, Stark bringing up Grayson every once in a while. She was surprised that he was so interested and seemed so pleased that she and his lawyer had started going out. She was even more stunned when he offered her alcohol out of his own personal supply, which he NEVER did, according to Pepper. Though Kat really shouldn’t have been drinking on the job, Stark had insisted and it was her birthday.
“No, I love to hang out with my boss and eat cake on my birthday. I do it every year.”
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure you’ve never had a boss like me.”
“That’s the understatement of the millennium.”
“You and Grayson going to do anything tonight?”
“Nothing in particular, really.”
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure your 22nd birthday won’t be as wild as your 21st.”
Kat frowned. Stark remembered how old she was? “How did you know I was turning 22?”
Stark paused, studying her for a few moments. There it was…that expression again…that look that said he was holding something back. Something he desperately wanted to tell her. It looked as if he were finally going to say it. She had been waiting months for that.
And then she realized that…in some small way…what he was going to say would explain the sad look that darkened his face so often.
Kat had grown to care about her boss over the past few months. Despite his rough exterior, he was an amazing man. He had built that entire suit from his own designs. On top of that, though other people had no idea how to deal with him, she found him easy to get along with…but that sad expression. Every once in a while, she would catch him with that expression on his face.
Finally, Stark said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you for months. Pepper told me I should have told you this when you first started this job, but I chickened out.” He paused. “I was too afraid that you would walk out immediately, and I would never see you again.”
What was this? Kat was thoroughly confused as he continued. As she listened to his confession, however, realization dawned on her, and she grew numb with shock. After all this time…? No. The sad expressions, how he treated her. It made sense…but this couldn’t be real.
Stark stopped looking around everywhere, trying not to meet her eyes, and finally turned to look her straight in the eye. She was surprised to see that he looked as if he were about to cry.
“The truth is…I’m your father.”
11th June 2013, 6:18 AM
Silence reigned for a full five minutes as Kat tried to comprehend what Stark had just said. He seemed to wait with held breath as the seconds ticked on, his eyes on the computer monitor in front of him, not really seeing anything.
The man who had hired her all of those months ago.
The man whom she had worked beside to create the suit.
The man who had patiently taught her basic mechanical engineering.
The man who joked with her and baked her a birthday cake.
The man who had flown through the skies with her.
Was her father.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” She asked shakily, trying to keep the emotion out of her voice.
“I thought you would walk out after…” He took a deep breath. “I thought, after a few months, maybe you wouldn’t walk out.” There was such sadness and hope in his voice, that Kat had to choke back a sob.
“Why would you think that I would walk out on you?”
“Gee, I don’t know, maybe the fact that I disappeared from your life twenty-one years ago and let you grow up believing you were an orphan?” He said bitterly.
He sighed, not answering her for a few moments. Quietly, she crossed over to the other end of the lab, grabbed another chair, and rolled it up so that she could sit a few feet beside him.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Tell me what happened. Then I’ll decide whether I want to walk out or not.”
He hesitated, not sure whether or not to start the story. Her intense gaze, however, forced him to start talking. “After you were born, SHIELD came to us with the news that you were the prophesied Chosen One. They offered us protection, and assigned Coulson to our case. A few months later…I came home…and found your mother lying in a pool of her own blood.”
Kat wanted to reach out to put a hand on his shoulder, but she held back. He turned away, but she had caught the tears forming in his eyes. “A few days later, Coulson showed up and told me that I had a choice: either let him take you or let another agent take custody of you and quite possibly train you to become a weapon SHIELD could use against its enemies. Coulson would give you a normal life. If I tried to keep you, SHIELD would take you anyway. So…I let Coulson walk away with you with the promise that I would one day see you again.”
Kat didn’t know what to say to this. She watched for a few minutes as he pulled himself together, piece by piece, and turned to her, a frightened, but hopeful look on his face. “You can leave if you want to. All I ask…” He took a deep breath. “All I ask is that you keep in touch. Maybe call once in a while…Maybe…consider coming over for Thanksgiving or Christmas or something, you know…whatever you want.” She could tell he was trying to look cool and disinterested, but he was failing miserably. It made her heart ache for him more.
Deciding that she couldn’t take any more, she said carefully. “I think…I need more time to process this. I…I’m going to go home and sleep on it…” She had to look away as she stood up, wheeling the chair back to where it had been before. He was watching her every move, as if holding his breath to see if she would turn around and tell him that she hated him and that she never wanted to see him again.
“I…” She wasn’t quite sure what to say before she left. “I…good night, Mr. Stark,” she said awkwardly before rushing out of the workshop.
Kat was still feeling numb as she opened the door to her apartment, puzzled why it was open, then she took defense mode. Someone was in her apartment, she could hear him…She prepared herself to attack…
Grayson nearly gave her a heart attack as he appeared from the kitchen, a large smile on his face. She jumped and squeaked a bit, not expecting him to be there. He laughed, stepping forward to throw his arms around her as she tried to stop shaking. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No…it’s okay…” Kat tried to sound as cheerful as she could, but it came out TOO cheerful, and Grayson picked up on that straight away.
He drew back a bit, studying her with a concerned look on his face. “Is everything okay?”
“Um…it will be…eventually…yeah…” Kat said, wondering whether or not she should bring it up to Grayson. She decided she should. She needed his advice on this matter… ‘’I…um…just came back from Stark’s place,” she said, walking around to sit down on her couch. He sat down beside her, close enough so that their knees touched. “He told me that he is my father.”
Grayson didn’t look at all surprised. What was up with that? Did he know? She could tell that he was struggling over whether or not to look surprised for her sake or come clean that he already knew. Thankfully, he came clean straight away. It was never like him to keep something from her. “I know. He told me yesterday. That was what those files were about…he wants me to work on revising his will to include you in it.”
Kat didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t know what to think about the situation. She just wanted to curl up in bed and forget the entire day…but then she had to make a decision soon, right?
“What do you think I should do?” She randomly blurted out. She needed help on this, especially Grayson’s help.
He thought for a few moments. “Do you want to stay here?”
“Of course I do…”
“No, Kat, if we weren’t dating, if I didn’t exist at all, would you want to stay here?”
Kat thought for a few moments, finally saying, “Yes, yes, I would want to stay here.”
“Then stay here and see what happens…and just know that I’ll be here for you, too,” he said, kissing her on the cheek and making her smile.
Suddenly, the box on the table moved a few inches. Kat froze. “Grayson, did that box just move?”
“Oh, yes…” Grayson slid the box closer to her. “Happy Birthday,” he said sweetly. She hesitantly lifted the lid. A little “mew” issued from the box and she gasped as she pulled out a few week’s old fluffy Himalayan golden and brown tabby kitten. Grayson smiled, obviously pleased that she was so happy with her gift.
“Grayson, I…I don’t know what…Thank you!” She stammered as the kitten climbed up her shoulder, nuzzling against her cheek.
“I checked with the landlord. He said it was perfectly fine to have cats in the apartments.”
“He’s…perfect…” Kat said, scooping up the kitten to place in her lap. She couldn’t stop tears from springing to her eyes. She sobbed, running her fingers through her hair. Grayson’s expression turned from joy to worry as she started to cry. He slipped his arms around her, pulling her close to cry on his shoulder.
“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered, burying his face in her hair. “It’s going to be okay.”
Stane paused, his hand poised over the ringing phone for a few seconds before finally picking it up. “Yes?”
“How is it coming?”
“Slowly. We don’t have the arc reactor technology we need to power it yet.”
“All you have to do is shrink down the factory model.”
“It isn’t as simple as that.”
There was a pause on the other end. “You see that she’s back, right?”
Stane sighed. “Yes, another obstacle to deal with.”
“I don’t think you understand. She is THE obstacle to deal with after Stark. We can’t kill her. We have to find an out of the way spot to place her. After Stark, who is going to miss her?”
“Stark’s lawyer. He’s her boyfriend.”
“He can be dealt with as well if he starts to sniff around.”
“Next step of action is to get this suit working. We’ll deal with Kat Stark after that,” Stane said.
“Do not underestimate her, Stane. It will be the death of you.”
Stark sat in front of the flat screen TV in his workshop, watching the news as he fixed the repulsors of the suit. A news story flashed on the screen in front of him. A small town near where he had been capture had been taken over by terrorists. He put down the arm, sighing. He had to do something about this.
Glancing over to where the suit hung on the wall, he made his final decision.
Kat decided to return to Stark’s house later the next day. As she walked down the steps to his workshop, she spotted the suit dismantled in parts strewn out across the workshop. Stark was passed out on one of the couches, fast asleep. She carefully walked over to one of the suit’s pieces, picking it up. It was riddled with bullet holes. She wasn’t careful in stepping around the pieces and managed to trip and drop the piece she was holding. It clattered to the floor, causing Stark to shoot up off of the couch.
“Jesus, Kat! You scared the hell out of me,” he said, looking from her to the suit and back again. There was a pause before he said, “You came back…”
“What happened here? What happened to the suit?”
“I wasn’t expecting you to come back, really, I thought you would be back in Atlanta by now.”
“These are bullet holes,” she said, picking up a piece of the suit and shoving it in his face. “Where did it get riddled with bullet holes?”
“I had to make things right.”
Kat thought for a few seconds until realization dawned on her. “So you flew off to Gulmira BY YOURSELF?! Why didn’t you call me?”
“Because it was MY MESS to clean up, not yours! Besides, why would I let you fly into danger like that?”
“Why would you let ME? Why should I let YOU fly off into danger like that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Chosen One. Let’s get one thing clear. I. AM. THE. PARENT. IN. THIS. RELATIONSHIP. I don’t care if you’re some thousands of years old angel once. Right now, you are my daughter, and it is my job to protect you. I failed to protect your mother, but God help me, I will not let you walk into danger.”
They glared at each other for a few moments until he snapped, “And why exactly are you still here?”
“Because I couldn’t leave.”
“Right. Long-distance relationships can get a bit tricky. I doubt it would be a problem with you and Grayson, though…” He said in a mocking tone.
“I couldn’t leave you.”
Stark froze, studying her with disbelief for a few moments. She threw up her hands. “I’m going back home…and I’m coming back on Monday…and, just maybe, we can try to start this relationship again.”
Kat started walking towards the door, stopping at the sound of his voice. “Just so we’re clear, the boss/employee relationship or the father/daughter one?”
She smirked and turned around. “How about both?” She said before turning back and leaving the workshop.
Later the next day, Kat was lying on the couch, petting Pika and staring out the window when a knock sounded on her door. “Just a minute!” She yelled, spring up and placing the kitten gently back on the couch before answering it. It was Coulson. “Uncle Phil? I didn’t expect you to come by!”
“Sorry I’m a bit late for your birthday. Surprise mission and whatnot,” he said, stepping in as Kat closed the door behind him. After retrieving some coffee, and sitting down on the couch across from him, Kat picked up Pika again. “Oh, who is this?”
“This is Pika…” She smiled. “Grayson got him for me.”
“Barton told me you had started going out with Grayson Strauss.”
She sighed. “Did you do a background check on him?”
“He’s clean. No criminal record, nothing. Actually, a very impressive educational record and, apparently, he knows Mike.”
“Yeah, what a coincidence.”
“Yeah…” Coulson trailed off, staring into his coffee before placing the mug on the table in front of him. “Listen, Kat, I’m sure Stark has told you by now….”
“Yeah…” Kat imitated his gesture. “I…um…he explained it to me…”
“I don’t blame you…in fact, the way he put it, I should be thanking you.”
Coulson seemed surprised. “Really? Because, when all of this started, he wasn’t very fond of me.”
“You were taking me away from him,” Kat pointed out. “No matter the motive…he probably didn’t like that.”
Coulson nodded. “So, what are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to stay here and finish out my internship…” She shrugged. “He…I don’t really want to leave him.”
Coulson smiled. “That’s great, Kat…That’s…exactly what I wanted, really…”
She smiled. “So, how long are you in town for?”
“A few days. Thought I would meet the boyfriend.”
“I’m sure Grayson would love to meet you as well.”
On Monday, Kat made her way to Stark’s house, interested in how the day was going to go. She found him in the workshop, putting some finishing touches on buffing the bullet holes out of the suit.
“Maybe you should try a stronger material?” She suggested, plopping down in his desk chair.
“This is the strongest material we’ve got right now. Plus, don’t want to get weighed down…” He dropped the buffer and looked over at her, raising an eyebrow. “Want to make this clear…just because you now know I’m your father does not mean you get to slack off in your job.”
“Yes, because my job was SO stressful beforehand.”
“Hey, don’t need that attitude from you, young lady.”
“I’m sorry, I think I inherited this attitude from you.”
He smiled. “Touche.” He glanced back down at the suit. “Stane’s supposed to come by later tonight…mind staying for a bit?”
“I’ve got a date.”
“On a Monday night?”
“Uncle Phil’s in town. He wants to go out with me and Grayson.”
“And I’m not invited?”
“Don’t you already have plans?”
“I can cancel them.”
“Yeah…you probably shouldn’t.”
Stark shrugged. “Your loss. I was thinking of discussing your future job prospects at the company.”
“Am I up for a promotion already?”
“Well, one day you will be. At least, that is, if you want it.”
Kat paused, realization dawning on her. “The company?”
“Yes, tell me, what last name is on your driver’s license.”
“Damnit, sorry, no, birth certificate…you’re going to have to get that one changed…then again, soon enough you’ll have to change it again.”
“Are you implying the impending nearness of me and Grayson getting married?”
“When’s the wedding?”
“I don’t know yet, I’m still waiting for our one year anniversary.”
“Anyway, main point is…You’re the only kid I have…the only Stark who could inherit control of this company in the future. Therefore, one day, the company will be yours.”
“Well, if you decide to go out on any Gulmira-like missions in the near future, I might inherit it a lot sooner than you expect.”
“Are you already planning on offing your old man to get control of the company?”
She threw her hands up in the air. “Woah, woah, woah, that was not a threat, just a reminder that, maybe, you shouldn’t do life-endangering things if you want to stay alive for much longer.”
He thought for a few moments before asking, “Want to go out to that island again any time soon?”
“I know you’re dying to explore it.”
“What are you going to do? Study that weird space effect that caused us to basically teleport?”
Kat’s phone started to ring. She swung out of the chair and walked out of the room. “Hello?”
“Hey, Kat, it’s Grayson. I have a few documents I need you to come and pick up for Stark…”
“Okay, I’ll be over in a few minutes,” Kat said before hanging up and walking back into the workshop.
“Was that your boyfriend?”
“What did he want?”
“He’s got some documents he wants you to look at.”
“Oh, yeah, those are important. Mind grabbing those for me?”
As she made her way to Grayson’s office, Kat almost literally ran into Stane. “Ah, Miss Coulson. Stark has you working hard, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, a little distracted.
“Have you considered what you’re going to do after your internship? He’s taken a liking to you. You’re probably going to get a promotion.”
“I’d like to stay if I could…I…have to go pick up some documents, actually.”
“Oh, of course, don’t let me keep you. Have a nice day…oh, and happy belated birthday.”
As he walked away, Kat wondered how he knew it was her birthday…she shrugged that off and walked to Grayson’s office. “Come in!” He shouted when she knocked on the door. She stepped inside and at once saw that Stane had just come from there. “He knows…” Grayson practically growled.
“He knows what?”
“He knows that you’re Stark’s daughter. He was just in here asking about bringing up your inheritance case to the board.”
“Have you talked to Stark about this yet?”
“No, I haven’t gotten the chance to…This is just another step in Stane’s plan…He could try to boot Stark out of the company purely by using this to campaign against him.”
“Then we’ll fight him.”
Grayson looked up at her, the anger disappearing for a moment. “You want to fight against Stane…for the inheritance from a man you just discovered was your father a few days ago.”
“That statement would carry more weight behind it if I had just met Stark a few days ago. He’s not a stranger…”
Grayson sighed. “Stark will want to fight as well. And…if it means keeping the both of you in the company…” He smiled. “Count me in.”
Stark sat down on the couch in his living room that night, looking over the papers in front of him on the inheritance case. He knew that Kat was out, but he had to ask her something, so he picked up his phone and dialed her.
“And, so, that was when Barton learned that he should probably not give Kat weapons practice at the end of a training session,” Coulson said, causing Grayson to burst into laughter.
“Hey, now, it was his own fault. I was pissed off and tired,” Kat said, defending herself. Her phone started ringing in her pocket. “Um…excuse me…” She said, sliding out of her chair and walking out of the restaurant. It was Stark’s number. “Hello?” There was silence on the other end. “Hello? Mr. Stark, is that you?” The phone call cut off. She frowned, staring at the phone.
“Something wrong?” Grayson asked as she came back to their table.
“Yeah…I think Stark just tried to call me.”
Coulson was staring down at his phone. “Yeah, no…something is wrong…”
Stark slumped in his seat, immobilized by the ringing sounds issuing from the device Stane was holding. All he could do was listen as Stane talked. “We’ve had a prototype going of your escape suit, Tony. Only thing is…” He opened up his suitcase and withdrew a circular metal device. “We haven’t been able to replicate the arc reactor. Unfortunately, Kat’s arrival was ill-timed.” He placed the device over the reactor. With a click, he pulled it out of Stark’s chest, looking at it. “She looks a lot like her mother, doesn’t she? Shame that she won’t get your share of the company. In fact…” He sighed. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to ensure she doesn’t get in our way…Chosen One business and all of that…Well, Tony, it was nice knowing you.” He stood up and left the room. Stark struggled to his feet, lurching forward to the elevator that led to his workshop.
“Kat, you come with me,” Coulson said, opening the door to his car. “Grayson, I need you to head over to Stark’s house and get him. We’ll meet you at the factory.”
“What’s going on?” Kat asked as she slid into the passenger’s seat and Coulson gunned it down the highway.
“We’ve been keeping eyes on Stane for a while now. Barton was able to gain access to some of his files…”
“I thought you said Barton wasn’t on a mission here!”
“Sorry…we hoped that our suspicions weren’t true… but, it turns out Stane wanted Stark out of the picture. He actually paid those terrorists to kidnap and kill Stark. Things went wrong, Stark escaped, but the suit was still intact enough to prototype.”
“You know about the suit?”
“Yeah…they found it out in the desert near where he escaped.”
“So Stane made a prototype…and now what?”
“He’s going to most likely finish what he started.”
“Mr. Stark?” Grayson called out as he ran into Stark’s living room. It was empty. “Mr. Stark?!” He flew down the stairs into Stark’s workshop, running across to where his boss lay on the floor, breathing heavily, a new arc reactor firmly secured in his chest. Grayson knelt beside him, startled when Stark reached up to grab him by the front of the chest. “Where is Kat?” He demanded.
“Coulson just went with her to the factory. To stop Stane.”
Stark struggled to his feet. “JARVIS?! I need the suit NOW!” Grayson watched, surprised when Stark stepped over to a metal plate in the middle of the floor, various machines working to form the suit around him.
“What…that…Well, okay, yes, that has to be the coolest thing I have ever seen,” Grayson said after the suit finished forming around Stark.
“Listen, I need you to get to Coulson and Kat and make sure that she’s out of harm’s way, okay?” Stark asked. Without another word, he blasted out of the workshop.
“I haven’t found anything yet,” Barton said as Coulson and Kat stepped into the factory sector where Coulson was sure that Stane kept his new prototype.
“Keep searching…we know it’s here somewhere…”
A loud crash caused them to turn around. A huge metal suit was heading their way.
“Run!” Coulson shouted, pushing Kat in the opposite direction. She bolted, not looking back. The suit ignored Coulson and Barton and continued to barrel after her. She burst out into the cool night air and took off into the sky, her heart stopping as she saw the suit follow her. A flare flew past her ear, bursting into colors above her.
She turned to see Stark heading in their direction, flying directly at who she assumed was Stane. She twisted and flew off to the side as Stane tried to follow her, too bulky in his suit to maneuver as swiftly as she did.
“Climb!” She shouted to Stark, lifting off higher into the sky. Stark followed after her, climbing higher and higher. This time, though, he didn’t ice over.
Another flare nearly slammed into her. Stark turned around and sent a pulse of energy slamming into Stane, but to not much effect. He reached out and grabbed Kat’s leg, causing her to shriek as Stane pulled her towards him. Stark flew forward, slamming his fist into Stane’s helmet. Stane reached out with his other hand and caught Stark’s suit by the throat, tightening his grip.
12th June 2013, 4:20 AM
The metal of Stane’s hand grew scorching hot where he gripped Kat’s leg. He shouted and let go of both Kat and Stark as the suit burst into flames, causing him to drop out of the sky. Stark started to free fall as well, apparently unconscious from having the breath chocked out of him. Kat dove after him, catching him by the leg and gently letting them back down towards the factory.
A huge explosion and a wall of flame nearly hit them as Stane slammed into the factory ceiling right where the arc reactor was kept. Kat steered them both away and touched down in the parking lot, laying Stark down gently on the pavement. She knelt beside him, wrenching the helmet off of his head. He wasn’t moving. The arc reactor in his chest was blinking.
“Dad…” She blinked back tears. “Dad…can you hear me?” She put the helmet down on the ground nearby. “Dad!” She shook him, trying to get him to wake up. “Please don’t die…” She pleaded, failing to keep the tears from falling down her cheeks. “Don’t die…don’t you dare!”
“Hey…don’t dare me not to do stuff, okay? I’m one of those people who will say “challenge accepted.””
She breathed a sigh of relief as he opened his eyes, grimacing. “Ugh, yeah, let’s strike nearly being murdered by my partner off of the list…You okay?”
“Yes, but I think you should be more worried about yourself.”
He frowned, looking up at her. “Did you just call me Dad?”
He laughed. “You did, I heard you.” He mused over this for a few seconds. “I like it. Makes me feel old, but, whatever…” He smiled. “I’ve been waiting a long time for you to call me that.”
Kat smiled back, looking up as Grayson and Coulson ran towards them. “Hey, yeah, Grayson, good news!” Stark shouted in his direction. “That bastard you hated working with is dead!”
“Thank God,” Grayson breathed, more so because Kat and Stark were okay than that Stane was dead.
Kat could hear the press outside in the main lobby as Stark sat in a chair, reading the headlines from the paper. “Oh, look, you were right. Dressing up as if you were going to rob the Louvre did make you pretty much invisible. Nothing in here about mysterious flying girl seen above Malibu.”
“That’s because people were too busy looking at the flying iron man in the sky,” Pepper pointed out. She, Coulson, and Grayson were waiting for the press conference to begin.
“Iron Man…I like that, that’s what they’ve started referring to on the news…”
“We have some alibis drawn up…” Coulson said, handing Stark some notecards. “Plus an explanation for Stane’s disappearance.” Stark stood up, struggling to fix his tie until Kat rolled her eyes and stepped over to help him. “This isn’t over,” Coulson said simply. “Not by a longshot. Stane’s just the first of a line of people we’re keeping tabs on. There are people going missing throughout the country. ALL registered as Aquapolian.”
“You think people are targeting Aquapolians?” Grayson asked. “I doubt many know they even exist.”
“And there are some who would rather eradicate them before their existence is widely known.” Coulson sighed. “Just be careful.”
“Well, what can we do? Wait until someone comes after us?” Pepper asked.
“No, Miss Potts. You prepare. You train. And you get ready…” Coulson said, before nodding to them and leaving the room.
“I’d also like to point out that the events of last night are not the only ones that need to be reflected on in some sort of press conference,” Grayson said. “Who knows who Stane told…”
“I’ve got plans for that…” Stark said. “Why don’t we just go with the casual approach?”
“Which is?” Kat asked.
He shrugged. “Introduce you as my daughter to whoever you happen to be introduced to…And, eventually, we’ll just announce it publicly….”
“You have three seconds, Tony,” Pepper said.
“To announce it?”
“To get out there and make a statement on what happened last night.”
“Oh, yes, right, of course,” Stark said before exiting the room.
Grayson sighed. “We have a long road ahead of us.”
“Did he actually ask you to re-write his will?” Pepper asked as Kat followed after her father.
“Yes…which begs the question...How happy is SHIELD going to be about all of this?”
“Okay, so, I know a lot has happened since I last spoke to all of you, but I just wanted to make a statement on last night’s events. Now, our preliminary statements have been that the suit was a bodyguard in a new project we’ve been working on…”
Stark searched the room until he found Kat standing near the back, her blue eyes a sort of aquamarine color at the moment. He kept his gaze on hers as he continued.
“The truth is…I am Iron Man.”
“Did you see it?”
“Of course I saw it. This does not affect any of our work whatsoever.”
“Do you want us to start Phase 2?”
The man sighed and hung up the phone, staring down at it before swinging around to face his two assistants. “Phase 2 is on, boys. No mistakes…Stane was lucky that he ended up dying before he could be captured.”
They nodded. “Of course, Mr. Hammer.”
Hello, this is your author here.
So far, we’ve covered the events of the first movie at breakneck speed, right? I mean, that was a pretty important set of events in Tony Stark’s life originally, right?
Of course they were, but here’s the thing.
Our story is really only just beginning.
While the first and third movies are generally considered way better than the second…let’s just take a look at how important the second part is.
We have questions, right?
What is Hammer’s connection to Stane?
What is Stark going to do about announcing to the rest of the world that Kat is his daughter?
What is our little band of Aquapolians going to do about these disappearences of their fellow people?
In part two, we are bound to get some answers. As well as a look at an even larger world. Because, the biggest question is…
What is up with that island?
18th July 2013, 7:09 PM
Two and a half months later…
The crowd’s roar was deafening. Kat was trying desperately to hear Pepper speak, even with her earpiece on. Pepper’s voice was literally right in her ear, and Kat still couldn’t hear her friend. “WHAT?!” She shouted, placing her fingers in her other ear, her eyes watching as her father strode back and forth across the stage, speaking to the cheering audience.
“HE SAID THAT HE WANTS YOU ONSTAGE ON OPENING DAY!”
Kat groaned. “IS THERE A REASON WHY HE DIDN’T SHARE THIS INFORMATION WITH ME SOONER?!”
“HE DIDN’T WANT YOU TO BACK OUT. SAID YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO MAKE ANY EXCUSES.”
Kat groaned again, louder this time, searching the crew backstage for someone to talk to. She tried to dial the channel on her earpiece to her boyfriend’s channel, but she knew that was fruitless. She didn’t feel like getting into a screaming conversation with someone whose accent she couldn’t understand at times even on a normal day.
She turned back, watching Stark as he addressed the crowd, talking about the Stark Expo, an exposition that would showcase the talents of great minds from all around the world, including those who were still students at top research institutes…including her own. She swore. That was her cue, she guessed. She watched as Stark turned to where she was off stage, giving her that self-confident smile that told her that he knew she wanted to kill him at that moment, but couldn’t because a. there were thousands of reasons and b. no matter how pissed off at him she got, she could never really bring herself to do that. So, instead, she took a deep breath, stood up straight and walked out onto the stage. The lights were glaring and the noise was even more deafening. Stark wrapped an arm around her shoulders for a few moments, waiting for the cheering to stop.
“Last minute decision,” He said. They were close enough to hear each other over the roar.
“Last minute decision my ***.”
“Watch your language, young lady, we’re in public.”
“Yeah, I know, that’s exactly why you’re not dead right now.”
“Well, I would like to think that was on account of that I’m your dearly loved father.”
Kat had to smirk at this. “That’s one of the reasons. Maybe…”
After a few more words, Stark and Kat were able to walk off of the stage in peace. “I am so ready to head back to Malibu…” He muttered as they wound their way through a crowd of people, all wanting to say hello and shake their hands. Stark put his arm around her shoulder in that casual way he had that said, “Hey, look, this is my daughter. She’s awesome, but, if you mess with her, I and her boyfriend will kill you.” Grayson had his own boyfriend version, except he wrapped his arm around her waist in a way that said, “This is my girlfriend. Don’t mess her. You won’t want to mess with me…and definitely not with her father.”
It was amazing how much better Stark and Grayson got along after months of them working together over Stark’s will and the case of finding out how to distribute Stane’s power amongst the rest of the company (a job Grayson did all too gleefully). Not to mention the fact that Grayson was going out with Kat, who was glad that her father thought that this was great, but it got annoying sometimes when Stark would pester her about when they were getting married. She knew he was saying this jokingly, but she couldn’t help but catch the underlying seriousness in his voice as well. It wasn’t as if Stark and Grayson didn’t get along before (in fact, Stark had already been eyeing him as a potential protégé before all of the events of the previous spring), but now they got along even better than anyone had expected.
Stark had made the announcement about Kat about a month previously along with the announcement of the Stark Expo. The paparazzi had been relentless, but, after a few terse comments from Grayson (who, after someone had discovered that he was dating Kat AND was Stark’s lawyer, decided that he had enough with people asking about his private life after the first few questions and had almost driven a guy from CNN to tears), some extreme sarcasm from Stark (as was expected), and some snide comments from Kat (that had made one pretty awesome reporter who had heard her say this to another laugh and mutter “Well, I guess we don’t have to look for those paternity tests for the proof, people…”), they had decided to back off a bit and leave the trio to themselves. Some had tried asking Pepper, but failed miserably after she practically laughed them right out of the Stark Industries main office. No one was going to get anything out of this group.
Generally (and surprisingly), the reaction from the public had been positive. Another Stark? Feminists had rallied to trumpet the arrival of a female engineer in the industrial scene (though this soon enough annoyed Kat, and, after one feminist reporter tried to get her extreme take on it and was immediately confronted by Kat’s annoyance, the issue was dropped). Younger and older students alike looked up to her in admiration after she went back to visit her school and make a few presentations. The news outlets had even backed off a bit from trying to find any small flaws or details in her story to pounce on.
Finally, after many introductions and handshaking, Stark and Kat made their way to the parking lot, where Happy and Grayson were waiting for them. Unfortunately, they had been joined by a third party. A tall well-dressed woman only about three or four years older than Grayson was talking to the young lawyer, who seemed a bit annoyed by her mere presence. Grayson had a generally warm and pleasant demeanor around everyone, but when he got pissed off at you, his polite tone took on an edge of snideness (which was one of the reasons he and Stark got along so beautifully).
Happy noticed them and fast-walked over, an “oh, ****, something’s going down, guys,” look on his face. Kat had gotten to know her father’s former bodyguard (former since he had the suit and since he had started taking lessons from Barton) well in the past months. He joked with her constantly, and was entirely unnerved when, to put it bluntly, she kicked his *** in his first training session with Barton.
“What’s up?” Stark asked casually, tilting his head over so he could keep Grayson and the young woman in his view.
“I’ll let Grayson tell you all of the specifics, but, for now, he’s just pissed because…” Happy shot Kat a glance, as if he were unsure to say whatever he wanted to say in front of her, then decided to barrel on anyway. “…she’s trying to talk business and ask him out at the same time.”
Stark laughed, and Kat had to smirk. She was used to this by now. Her and Grayson’s relationship wasn’t super well known despite the paparazzi’s incessant buzzing. And Grayson was extremely good-looking. His looks, accent, and job combined together to mark him as an attractive target for many girls. He got asked out plenty of times by girls (most of which just wanted to date someone famous). While many guys would just laugh and say something along the lines of, “sorry, I have a girlfriend” (well, the decent guys, anyway), Grayson genuinely got pissed off, especially after giving them a hint that he wasn’t interested. The unlucky girls who hinted or even said directly that they didn’t mind that he had a girlfriend got full on snide, pissed-off Grayson Strauss. The transformation from polite Grayson to angry Grayson was enormous.
Stark turned to Kat. “You should probably go over there.” The only reason why Stark thought these situations were hilarious was that he had observed Kat and Grayson for all those months and was about 10000% sure that Grayson would rather die than cheat on Stark’s daughter. Plus, Stark thought pissed-off Grayson was the funniest thing on the planet.
Kat started to protest, but even Happy thought this was a good idea, so she sighed and started walking over to her boyfriend, waiting until there was a lull in the girl’s conversation before she said, “There you are, Grayson!”
She felt a little giddy as Grayson turned to her, the familiar smile spreading across his face, that smile he only gave her when he saw her. “Hi, Kat,” he said, pulling her close, so glad to have physical proof that yes, he did have a girlfriend, and yes, he would give up his entire world before he broke up with her.
The girl shot Kat a *****y look before changing back to her usual business. Stark, by now, had moved closer, curious to what his lawyer and this girl was talking about. “Ah, Mr. Stark, this is for you,” she said, holding out an envelope towards him.
“Oh, no, I don’t like being handed things.” It was true. Stark hated for people handing him things. The only person he allowed to hand him things was Kat.
This unnerved the girl for a bit before Grayson sighed. “I’ll take that, thank you.” With that, Grayson turned around and he and Kat walked off. The girl glared after him until she realized that Stark was still standing there. He shrugged and gave her a “whoops, guess he had a girlfriend all along, oh, well” look before walking off, a smirk firmly planted on his face.
“A subpoena? What for?” Stark asked after he and Kat had piled into the back seat of the car with Happy at the wheel and Grayson riding shotgun.
“What did he do this time?” Kat asked with extreme exasperation in her voice, as if she were so sick and tired of her father’s antics.
“It’s about the suit,” Grayson explained. “The government is holding a hearing to determine whether or not they could legally seize it from you.”
“I’d like to see them try,” Stark said. Grayson shot him a “this is serious” look. “Hey, Happy, we’re within driving distance of D.C., right?”
“Yeah, just a few hours.” Kat looked at her father as if he were crazy, but she resigned herself to the fact that they were now speeding towards D.C.
Kat had never been in court before, and she had never planned on being in court ever, but, when you’re Tony Stark’s daughter, you expected to end up at least once in court watching your boyfriend try and defend one of your father’s many…antics. While Grayson easily got pissed off by girls hitting on him and by the Obadiah Stane’s of the world, he had extreme patience when it came to Stark. Having been asked by Kat how that was, he had responded that, when he signed up for the job a year ago, he had told himself that Stark would try his patience more than once, and he would just have to try and stay cool. Now, Grayson looked merely concerned, not worried, though most of the cause for worry would not be the solidity of Stark’s case, but Stark’s attitude throughout the proceedings.
The hearing started off as Kat planned. The members of Congress who had called the hearing all seemed to have a grudge against Stark. He had pissed a lot of people off with the fact that he would not surrender the suit’s technology over to the military. Kat knew it was just as much a matter of caution than him being jealous. Once in the hands of the military, the suit COULD end up protecting the country, but what if it ended up in the hands of the enemy with disastrous consequences?
Another weapon’s industrialist had been called to the hearing as well to sort of stand up for the congressmen’s cause. Skinny, with slicked back brown hair and glasses, Jon Hammer looked every part of the nerd that Stark’s physical appearance lacked. And from the first few words out of his mouth, Kat couldn’t stand him. He was, to her ears, a Class A douchebag.
A few of his words, however, caught her ear before she started tuning him out. Everyone had quieted down to hear what he was saying. “…and I beg the question…” He said with a glance over to Stark. “…what is going to happen to the suit upon your death?” It wasn’t as much a threat of death as much of a threat of “hey, once you die, the government is going to take the suit anyway, so why drag this out?”
But Stark already had a good answer to that. “Oh, well, that’s simple. Upon my death, the suit’s go to my only child and heir. And, for the record, I hope I stick around to haunt the place for a bit, because I’d like to see you try and take the suit away from my daughter. Even I’m scared of her.”
There were chuckles around the courtroom, and Kat grinned as her father turned around and gave her an “it’s true, what can I say?” look and a wink. Hammer cleared his throat, trying to draw attention back to him.
“Well, that’s great, but, really, is she qualified to ensure that the suit doesn’t fall in the wrong hands? I mean, what kind of background does she have in this field? From what we know, she hasn’t been exposed to or worked for Stark Industries for very long…”
Grayson shot Hammer an annoyed look, preparing a defense. Stark beat him to it. Kat could tell Hammer had pissed him off to no end. Tony Stark had two pissed off looks: one where he was physically angry and yelling and one where he outwardly looked calm, but inside was preparing to strangle someone. The latter was his more intense setting…and Kat could tell this was the latter.
“Are you expecting me to die tomorrow, Hammer?” Stark said, with a laugh that did not sound forced, but Kat knew to be so. “I’m sure by the time I kick the bucket, she’ll be better at using the suit than I am.”
In the end, the hearing ended without much of a decision. Stark was allowed to keep the suits for another period of time before he would be called back into court. On the way out, Stark ran into Hammer, shaking his hand for the benefit of all of the reporters in front of them.
“If you so much as mention my daughter’s name again in public…” Stark said through clinched teeth. “I will kill you.” He gave Hammer a genuine smile as he saw the slight spark of fear in the man’s eyes. Without saying another word, Stark walked off, making his way over to his waiting car. Hammer was visibly shaken for a few moments before his phone rang.
Sliding it to his ear, he heard that familiar voice growl, “You were not to turn any attention toward the daughter. I explicitly told you that.”
Hammer ducked to either side, making sure no one could hear him as he made his way to a quiet part of the building. “It seemed like the only tactic at the time…”
“Let me make this clear to you: the more attention she gets, the harder it’s going to be to make both of them disappear. Tony Stark’s disappearance alone will raise alarm bells, but if his daughter gains enough attention now, her disappearance will cause an uproar. Now, the next phase will take place in Monaco. Be there and be there on time, Hammer. I want you to see this show.”
The music was blaring in Stark’s workshop when Grayson got there. It had taken a few days for both of them to calm down from the hearing at Congress, but Grayson was still not in the mood for losing his hearing at such an early age. He punched a few buttons in the console next to the entrance, lowering the music to a bearable level.
“What have I told you about lowering my music?” Stark asked without turning around. He was working on a new model for the suit, this one a different color scheme and more portable than the last one.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t conduct business when I can’t even hear myself think,” Grayson said, stepping over to stand beside Stark, who was practically sitting on the floor like a little kid as he worked. He tilted his head to the side. “You’re going with a silver and red paint job this time?”
“Yeah, got to change it up between models, right? What do you think about the case?” Stark pressed a button on the arm of the suit, and it started to fold into itself, eventually forming a silver and red case.
“Nice,” Grayson said, nodding.
“Eventually, I’m going to make it even more portable,” Stark said, jumping to his feet and walking over to his desk, sitting down in his chair.
Grayson walked over and leaned against the computer bank. “Is there a reason you called me here today?”
“Yes, actually, there is. Since Stane fell to his death a few months ago, I’ve had to start thinking about the company and spreading around the power a bit. With Pepper gone to her new position in the company, she’s not an option, so I need to look for new ones…”
“For the new CEO.”
“You’re stepping down?”
“I never actually ran the company in the first place, really. Stane and Pepper did most of that. I need a CEO I can trust, who won’t get greedy, and knows exactly in what direction I want to take the company in.”
“You want me to draw up some papers handing the company over to…do you have anyone in mind?”
“Me?” Grayson raised an eyebrow, speechless for a few moments. “You want ME to be the new CEO?” He laughed. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. I can’t think of anyone better. Kat doesn’t have the experience…”
“Neither do I.”
“You’ve helped me run the company since Stane died.”
“That’s only been for a few months.”
“And you’ve done a fantastic job at it. Look, you’re the only person I can think of who can handle this job. Please?”
“Are you begging me to take the job as a CEO at a company I’ve barely worked at for over a year?” Grayson asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Yes. Yes I am,” Stark replied.
Grayson sighed as he walked over to the door. “Okay…I’ll think about it.”
“Awesome. I was worried that you wouldn’t take the job. Want to keep this company in the family you know…”
Grayson turned around, frowning. “I’m not in the family…”
Grayson sighed. “I’m going to go draw up those papers now.”
“Great, oh, and…could you not tell Kat about this? I want it to be a surprise.”
“I’m going to hurt you,” Barton warned, taking a few steps back from Stark in the gym.
Stark rolled his eyes. “Come on, just try and punch me with everything you’ve got.”
Kat watched as Barton lunged forward, faster than Stark had expected, causing the latter to twist sideways and actually get himself caught in the ropes. She busted out laughing. “You didn’t see that!” Stark protested as Grayson stepped into the room, a folder underneath one of his arms.
“What did I not see?” He asked Kat.
“Barton nearly kicking Dad’s ***…”
“Language!” Stark shouted.
“Oh, come on, language police…”
“I kind of need you to sign this soon,” Grayson said to Stark as he hopped down off of the platform. Barton sat down, chilling out.
“What’s that?” Kat asked, motioning to the documents Grayson handed Stark.
“Sorry, can’t tell you. Lawyer-client confidentiality,” Stark said, taking the pen that Grayson handed to him. Kat glanced over at her boyfriend, who shrugged, as if to say her father was right. She sighed as Stark scribbled off what she believed to be his signature on the documents before handing the papers and the pen back to Grayson. “There you go. It’s all yours.”
Grayson gave a short laugh as Kat looked from one to the other, a puzzled look on her face. “Okay, come on, what are you guys not telling me?” She hated it when Stark and Grayson kept secrets from her, even if they were good surprises later on. She was glad that they got along well enough to keep secrets together, but sometimes they ended up ganging up and teasing her.
“You know how I’ve been having trouble deciding who is going to be the new CEO?” Stark asked, picking up his water bottle, which was full of that really weird looking green chlorophyll stuff he had begun to drink recently.
“Yeah…you said you had some candidates, but you failed to tell me who they were…” Kat pointed out.
“Well, I made my final decision. Say hello to the new CEO of Stark Industries,” her father said, motioning to Grayson nonchalantly as he downed about half of his water bottle.
At first, Kat was certain this was a joke. Yes, Grayson was fully capable of running a company. Although he had no experience in an executive position like that, he had the drive, he had Stark’s full and eternal trust, and he was extremely loyal to the company. Still…She gave a nervous laugh. “What are you talking about?”
Grayson sighed. “I told you this might be a bad idea…”
“Too late. You’ve already signed the document. You’ve already sold your soul,” Stark said, throwing up his hands like there was nothing he could do. Kat was pretty sure Grayson could find a way to make the document null and void if he really wanted to, but as she studied her boyfriend, she saw a bit of an excited spark in his eye, as if he were looking forward to this new challenge set before him.
If Grayson wanted to do this, then, Kat would support him, but first…”And when were you guys going to tell me?” She snapped, mainly at Stark, who, she knew, probably asked Grayson to keep his mouth shut on the manner.
“Um…right now? Surprise!” Stark said. “Your boyfriend’s the new CEO!”
Kat groaned, placing her head in her hands. “I’m your assistant. Don’t you think it would have been important to tell me?”
“With some of my business decisions, no…”
“Okay, let’s try a different tactic. I’m your daughter. Don’t you think it would have been important to tell me that you were making my boyfriend CEO of your company?”
“Maybe…” Kat had to restrain herself from punching him right then and there. Her anger was subsiding a bit (not that she had been truly really angry in the first place).
“You two are coming to Monaco, right?” Stark asked as he plopped down in one of the chairs across the gym. Barton was still sitting quietly on the platform, his eyes closed as if he were meditating and far from this world. Kat knew he was listening to every word that was said in that room.
“Of course. Wouldn’t want to miss it,” Kat said. As one of the promotions for the Stark Expo, Stark Industries was promoting a race in Monaco a few days from then. In fact, Stark had even bought one of the cars…sneakily of course. He had asked Kat one day offhandedly what her favorite color was, then revealed the next day that he had bought a blue stock car for the race. It now stood in his workshop, to be transported over to Europe once they left on his jet.
“Is our new CEO going to be there or will he be too busy?” Stark asked in Grayson’s general direction.
“No, I’ll be there…” Grayson responded a bit distantly. He was still looking over the signed papers in his folder as if he couldn’t believe they were real. He suddenly looked up as if he noticed that there were other people in the room. “I…um…I’m going to go take these back to the office…”
“I’ll come with you,” Kat offered. She wanted to talk to Grayson in private about his new promotion. He would open up to her without Stark around, she was sure. Grayson nodded at her offer, glad for her to come along. “Okay…” She said, scooping up her bag. “While I’m gone, Barton, please don’t kill Dad,” she joked.
“I’ll try not to,” Barton said, his eyes still closed as Kat followed Grayson out of the gym.
“You didn’t expect it at all?”
Grayson had already started packing the contents of his office up in boxes, getting ready for the move to what had originally been Stane’s office. She knew he took some sort of smug satisfaction from that. He replaced Stane, the man who had tried to kick Stark out of the company. The man who had attacked his boss and his girlfriend and tried to kill them both.
“No…I didn’t. I knew Stark had to make his decision about a new CEO soon, but this…” Grayson trailed off as Kat picked up a box, eager to help him move into his new office. He smiled. “Come on, let’s go see if there’s anything left of Stane’s that can be burned.”
She laughed. “Don’t you mean thrown away?”
“Oh, yeah, sure, ‘thrown away.’” Grayson said as he opened the door to his new office. It was the same office Stark had interviewed Kat in for her job. She placed the box down on the desk and strode to the floor to ceiling wall of glass, surveying the factory in the distance. She saw Grayson step up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and placing his chin on her shoulder.
“The question is…are you going to stay?”
Kat sighed. “I need to go back to school eventually…I’m thinking of starting back during the spring semester…”
“I’m going to miss you.”
“You have a jet now, Grayson. You can come to Atlanta whenever you want. Besides, isn’t Dad planning some construction there, soon?”
He winced. “That was supposed to be a surprise.”
“Whoops. Well, he should be more secret about these things…”
“Just don’t tell him that you know. You know how he likes to surprise you with these things.”
“You know that this will be the first time I’ve ever been out of the country?”
“What?” Grayson pulled back and looked at her with a surprised look on his face. “Kat…” He thought for a few seconds. “You know I probably need to take you to England sometime soon to meet my parents…”
She winced. “I know. I’ve never even spoken to them, yet you have to deal with my dad and all of his problems on a daily basis.”
He shrugged. “By the way…speaking of my old job with Stark…I need to find my replacement…and I was thinking about asking Mike if he would like to come over here and interview with Stark.”
“I think you may give Mike a heart attack.”
“Yes, I know how much he idolizes Iron Man,” Grayson chuckled. “The only problem is his boss, Harvey Spector. We may end up having to try to get both of them…”
“We can call them up after we get back from Monaco,” Kat said, smiling. “I would really, really, really like to keep business to a minimum while we’re over there.”
“I think we can both use a vacation,” Grayson said, wrapping his arms around her again and kissing her on her forehead. “I’m looking forward to spending much more time with you.”
6th August 2013, 8:56 PM
Kat waded through the crowd at the lounge at the Monaco Speedway, looking around for Pepper. She finally spotted her near one of the windows talking to Grayson. Walking up to them, Kat smiled at her cousin. “Kat, how are you?” Pepper asked as Kat leaned into Grayson, who instinctively wrapped an arm around her waist. Pepper smiled.
“Glad to have at least a small vacation.”
“Wait…working for Tony ISN’T a vacation?” Pepper asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Oh, God, I thought I was taking a vacation for fifteen years of my life…I guess it was all a lie…”
“I have a feeling that you guys are talking behind my back over here,” Stark said as he walked up, looking around at them. “And I just want to say my feelings are hurt.”
Kat rolled her eyes. Pepper raised her eyebrows. “Oh, God, that’s scary.”
“What?” Kat asked.
“Do you know that you roll your eyes exactly like him?”
“That’s because she inherited my level of awesomeness,” Stark pointed out.
“That’s funny, because I thought she inherited that from Caroline.” Pepper said, looking around at the crowd until she waved at someone. Kat turned to see Killian speaking to none other than Jon Hammer. He turned and waved back, saying his good-bye to Hammer before striding over.
“I heard there were some new changes at Stark Industries recently,” he said, turning to Grayson. “Congratulations.”
Grayson nodded. “Thank you.”
“Have you set a wedding date yet?” Stark asked.
“Next spring, actually,” Pepper answered.
Stark looked a little distracted, looking at his watch. “Sorry…I have…somewhere I need to be.”
Kat frowned. “Like where…?”
“Meeting, sorry, bye.” With that, Stark left before Kat could ask him any questions.
She turned back to the others and muttered, “I don’t remember him having a meeting today…”
A few hours later, the race was about to start, and Stark was nowhere in sight. Kat sighed as she glanced out the windows to the racetrack below, enjoying the sea breeze coming in through the open window. Grayson sat beside her, his arm wrapped around her waist as he talked with Pepper about the company. Kat observed the drivers of the cars as they prepared for the race, climbing into their stock cars and buckling in. Her eyes were on the blue Stark Industries car. The driver had already buckled himself in when someone walked up to him and gestured for him to get out. He did so, and the new person took his place. It wasn’t until the new driver turned around and gave her a thumbs up until she realized who it was.
“Dad?” She breathed, not believing what she was seeing as he jammed a helmet over his head and climbed into the car. Pepper and Grayson turned, wondering what was going on. “Is he seriously doing this?” Kat asked herself as all of the cars started revving their engines.
“Oh. My. God,” Pepper said when she realized what was happening. She sighed and put her head in her hands, laughing. “Did you know that Tony wanted to buy a racecar when you were a few weeks old? Caroline refused to go along with it, saying that he would be too tempted to drive it and end up leaving you fatherless.” As she looked up, her expression turned sad. “I guess now…I guess now the car and everything is a tribute to her…You know she died in December…”
Kat watched as all of the cars pulled away from the starting line. True, Stark was reckless…Kat felt as if she were on the edge of her seat, ready to spring into action in case something happened. On the third turn around the track, Stark had overtaken most of the drivers. Something was wrong, however…Kat could see someone walking around on the track…Suddenly, there was a crash and a car burst into flames. The smoke cleared to reveal a man with greying hair…something akin to an arc reactor over his chest, powering what looked to be long tentacles of electricity attached to either arm. He spun them around, hitting another car. Kat’s heart leapt in her throat as Stark’s car came around the bend and flipped.
“GET UP!” She snapped at Grayson. Completely confused, he slid out of his seat as she jumped to her feet, racing across the lounge to where Happy was. “Where is the car? Show me where the car is!” He took off towards the car as Kat raced after him, stopping to take her heels off before they got there. Grayson and Pepper followed them. After Happy unlocked the car, Kat snatched Stark’s briefcase out of it and turned to Grayson, shoving her heels into his hands. “Don’t lose these.” Before anyone could stop her, she sprinted off towards the racetrack, barely hearing Grayson call out her name.
Stark struggled to concentrate on pulling himself out of his wrecked car through the intense ringing in his ears. His mind was screaming at him to get away as fast as he could before his attacker managed to hit the gas tank and blow him sky high. He really, really wished he had finished that more mobile version of the suit. Cursing up and down at the fact that his suitcase suit was all the way in Happy’s car in the parking lot, he managed to scramble to his feet and run a few paces before the electric man slammed his tentacles into Stark’s car. The explosion blew him a few yards forward. Slamming onto the pavement, he rolled over and stumbled to his feet again, wondering how in the hell he was going to make it out of there alive.
This race was supposed to take his mind off things. Stark had refused to tell Kat the truth…refused to tell her what had been bothering him over the past few months. The truth was simple: he was dying. The reactor core was poisoning him. He had tried all sorts of combinations of elements to stop the poison from leeching into his system, but none of them had worked. He estimated he had a total time of three months left. Three months together with her. Three months of happiness with the daughter whom he had been separated with for two decades. Three months before he was once again reunited with his beloved Caroline.
As if thinking about Kat had somehow summoned her into existence, he spotted someone racing barefoot across the racetrack. The electric man was making his way between Stark and the racing figure, distracted by this sudden presence. Stark’s heart seemed to stop as he saw her. “No…Kat…no…” He muttered. She was carrying his suitcase…but the electric man had spotted her.
This was even worse. He could have dealt with being killed out on this racetrack, but he would never be able to survive watching her die…not after Caroline…not so close to the time of year at which her mother died. “KAT, NO! GO BACK!” He screamed at her as the electric man stepped towards her. There was nothing he could do. He was helpless to save her…just as he had been helpless all those years ago…
She stopped in her tracks, her eyes wide and scared as the man advanced towards her. She kept on looking from him to Stark and back again. Stark had to look away. “No…no…no…” He muttered. He was just about to race towards the man as a distraction before he heard the screech of car wheels.
Apparently, the barricade between the raceway and the street wasn’t strong enough to stop an actual car from breaking through it. Happy’s car plowed through the barricade and straight into the electric man with enough force to pin him against the barricade on the opposite side. For a moment, Stark thought it was Happy, until he spotted Grayson’s distinctive red hair.
Kat took this chance to sprint to Stark, handing him the suitcase. He took he from her and simultaneously hugged her tight with relief. “Go, go, go!” He shouted as he opened the briefcase, shoving her to where Grayson was getting out of the car. He had pretty much wrecked it by driving into the electric man, who was now gaining consciousness. Grayson grabbed her by the arm and they ran for the other end of the track as Stark stepped into the briefcase suit. Electric man brought the tentacles down on the car, splitting it in half and freeing himself. He turned his attention to Stark, capturing him before turning to the two fleeing figures.
Kat stopped and turned around. “Dad!” She shouted. Grayson tried to drag her off of the track, but it was no use.
“Kat, Kat! We have to go!” He shouted. Before they could get any further, she could hear the hum of electricity in the air, and Grayson slammed to the ground, crying out in pain.
“GRAYSON!” The tentacles had connected with his back, dragging horrible lashes through his suit and the skin underneath. She knelt beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder as he shook with pain and shock. She looked up as the electric man tightened the tentacles around Stark in his suit. Her look turned from scared to angry, her eyes flashing. She stood up and started walking calmly towards the man, who turned towards her, ready to lash out at her. Her eyes shone brightly, and he went flying through the air, releasing Stark with a crash and slamming into the barricade. Sirens sounded behind her as her eyes turned back to normal. Stark sat up, tearing his helmet off of his head to look at her, his eyes wide.
She started to run towards him, but he shouted, “I’m fine!” As he stood up, waving her in Grayson’s direction. He was being loaded onto a stretcher.
She raced over to him, tears flooding her eyes. He was still alive. When he saw her, he gave her a weak smile. “Kat…I’m sorry…” He said in barely a whisper.
“For what?” She sobbed.
“I lost your shoes.”
Kat stood in front of the doors to the emergency room, waiting for a doctor to come out and tell her how Grayson was doing. Stark stopped for a moment before stepping up to stand beside her. “Have they said anything about his condition yet?”
“No…” She shook her head. “Not yet…”
“Are you okay?”
“I mean, are you physically okay?”
“Aside from a couple of scrapes, yes.”
There was silence for a few moments until Stark spoke again. “Please don’t do that again.”
“Save your life?” Kat turned to him, her eyes flashing. “I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t watch you die out there like that.”
“I didn’t mean you running the suitcase out to me. I meant using your powers like that…”
She calmed down a bit. “Yeah…I guess you’re lucky that way,” she said bitterly as she turned back to the doors. “You don’t have to conceal who you are when saving people’s lives.”
“Kat…” He groaned. “I’m sorry, I…just…you could have been killed out there today…and I…”
“I understand,” she said in a softer tone.
There was another pause until he looked down at her feet. “Do you want me to bring you some shoes?”
“What? Oh…” She looked down at her bare feet, then the ripped edges of her skirt. “Um…yeah…”
“I’ll bring you some clothes, too. Call me if there’s any news.” He placed a hand on her shoulder for a few moments before turning and walking for the exit.
She spun around. “Dad?”
He turned around. “Yeah?”
“What if…he doesn’t make it?”
Stark’s heart broke a little bit as he answered, “Don’t worry…it’s going to take a lot more than that to kill Grayson Strauss.”
“What about the press, Tony?” Pepper asked as he ran around the suite Kat was sharing with Grayson, packing up some of her stuff to take to the hospital, including an extra pair of clothes for Grayson once he was able to leave. “What are we going to tell them about what Kat just did?”
“We’ll write it off as a piece of Stark tech. Say she was carrying around a prototype I’ve been working on. A mobile version of the suit.” Stark stopped, and looked around before grabbing his bag. “I think I have everything.” Pepper just looked at him and shook her head. “What?”
“Do you remember Caroline saying that once Kat got older, she would have you wrapped around her little finger?”
“Who else would you be pretty much packing your stuff up and moving to the hospital for, Tony?”
“Yeah, well…” Stark said, walking towards the door. “She’s special.”
When Stark returned to the hospital, he found Kat sitting in the waiting room, her arms wrapped around herself. A feeling of dread hit him as he hurried over to her. “Any news?”
She looked up and said quietly, “He’s out of surgery. The nurse is supposed to let me know when I can go in and see him. They usually wouldn’t let anyone in but family members, but…they want me to call his family.”
“Are you sure? I can do that,” Stark said, sitting down beside her.
“No…I think I better do it…” She squirmed in her seat, taking her phone from Stark, who had picked it up in her apartment.
“At least change first. I’m sure you want to get out of those clothes…and into some shoes…”
Kat laughed and shook her head. “Yeah, I’m sure walking around a hospital barefoot prevents a safety hazard. They threatened to kick me out before they found out you were getting me some shoes.”
After changing into some clean clothes, Kat ducked outside and dialed the number for Grayson’s father that the receptionist had given her. She sighed as it hit voicemail. “Hello, you’ve reached Richard Strauss. I’m unavailable at the moment. Please leave me a message, and I will return your call just as soon as possible. Thank you.”
“Hello, Mr. Strauss, this is Kat Stark, Grayson’s girlfriend. I was just calling to let you know that Grayson has been in an accident in Monaco. He has sustained serious burns to his back and is currently recovering from surgery here. I don’t know if you would be able to make it down here, but I just wanted to let you know that they believe it will be touch and go for a while, but that he’ll make it. I’ll call again if there are any updates. Thank you.”
Kat was able to make it through the entire message without tearing up, but as soon as she got back to the waiting room and saw Stark speaking with a nurse, a serious look on his face, she nearly lost it. After the nurse walked away, Stark turned to her, sighing. “They said he’ll make a full recovery, but normally he would have died…no one could have survived those injuries, but apparently he did…they did say that he will lose all feeling in his back for about a month, and, once the nerves start healing themselves, he’ll have to be put on bed rest for a week for the pain. They’ll proscribe medicine for that.”
Kat breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God…” She said. Stark gave her a quick hug.
“Did you get in touch with Strauss?”
“No, I left him a voicemail. Hopefully, he gets in touch soon…”
“Excuse me?” They turned back towards the nurse. “The doctor said that you can see him now.”
Kat glanced over at Stark. “Stay with him as long as you want to. I need to make a few calls,” he said, pulling her close and kissing her on the top of the head. She followed the nurse to Grayson’s room, shutting the door behind her and walking slowly towards the bed. They had laid him down on his stomach, his face turned towards her. Only a heart monitor was attached to him, and fluids ran through an IV into his arm. They had also failed to pull the blanket up over his back, revealing the bandages that wrapped around from his upper back to his lower back. Kat sat down on a chair beside him, drawing it close, taking the hand that was nearest to her and wrapping both of her hands around his one hand. His hands were so big compared to hers…Before she could stop them, tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Please…” She sobbed. “Please don’t leave me…I know you’re going to be alright, but please don’t…” She placed her head down next to his and bawled silently.
“My instructions were clear.”
“I know that. I didn’t expect her to actually literally run out onto the race track.”
“And now you’ve brought attention by landing the new CEO in the hospital…”
“He’s not dead.”
“Fix. This. Now.”
Stark was surprised when Coulson walked into the waiting room a few hours later. “How is he?” Coulson asked, sitting down across from Stark.
“He’s still out, but they say he’s going to make a full recovery.”
“Yeah…about that…We may want to get him out of this hospital soon. We don’t want people investigating why he survived that and what Kat did out there…”
“Do you have any information on the guy who attacked us?”
Coulson sighed. “He escaped police, but we’ve got a name. Ivan Vanko. Used to work for the Soviets back in the day. We can’t find any connections to people who may want you dead, but we’re still looking.”
Stark thought about this for a few moments. “How about covering up Kat’s actions?”
Coulson smiled. “As much as I hate it, the world just really isn’t ready yet for Aquapolians and their Chosen One. Just pass it off as tech if anyone asks. Let the conspiracy theorists ruin the story. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
Coulson stood up. “That’s classified.”
“I thought I had top level clearance.”
“Are you kidding me? You don’t even have bottom level clearance.”
Stark winced. “That’s harsh.”
“Well, that’s what you get from threatening the SHIELD hotline all of these years.”
“I wanted my daughter back. Who can blame me for that?”
“I’ll see you stateside, Stark,” Coulson said before leaving the waiting room.
Kat had fallen asleep right beside Grayson, her head near his, her hand still intertwined in his. Stark had checked on her once or twice during the night, but he refrained from disturbing her or waiting with her. He knew once Grayson woke up, they would want some time alone together.
Finally, around noon the next day, Grayson opened his eyes. He was still a bit drowsy from the pain medication. Kat could see how cloudy his eyes were as he tried to prop himself up a bit on his elbows, but failed miserably, consigning himself to lying there as he talked. He gave her a slow smile.
“How are you feeling?” Kat asked, drawing closer to her so that their foreheads were practically touching.
He sighed. “I don’t feel much of anything right now,” he answered in a slightly slurred bit of speech. “And considering what happened to me…I’m glad.”
“They say that you’ll make a full recovery, but once the nerves gain back feeling in your back, you’re going to need to go on bed rest with pain medication for a while,” Kat murmured, placing a hand on Grayson’s cheek before sliding it across his shoulder. They stayed like that for a while, just enjoying being near each other.
They were both so silent, after a while, Kat thought perhaps Grayson had fallen back asleep. Suddenly, he spoke. “Who was it that attacked us?”
“Uncle Phil is looking into that right now. He’ll find out soon enough…All we need to do is get you safe and back home.”
It was another two days before the hospital would discharge Grayson. Happy had secured another car very similar to the one that Grayson had wrecked on the racetrack. For once, Stark actually sat up front, allowing Kat to sit with Grayson in the back.
“Okay, to the airport we go. I, for one, am glad to be heading back home,” Stark announced as Happy tore out of the parking lot. “There hasn’t been much headway on who attacked us, but, rest assured, once we find out, I’m going after the son of a *****.”
“Not. Alone.” Kat emphasized. She wanted her own shot at the guy, and she wanted to make sure Stark didn’t fly into danger solely to get revenge.
“I just want to get back to my own bed,” Grayson said.
“By the way, you get like the next month off,” Stark said, raising his eyebrows.
“Okay, first of all, I can’t take the next month off because we have several important functions coming up. Second of all, you are not technically my boss anymore, so you don’t have the power to give me any time off,” Grayson pointed out.
“Whatever. I said so, so it is law,” Stark said. Kat sighed and rolled her eyes. “Don’t do that.”
When they finally arrived back at Grayson’s Malibu apartment, Happy let Kat and Grayson off. Stark got out of the passenger’s seat to switch to the back where Grayson was sitting. He stopped Grayson before he walked off. “Thank you.”
Grayson seemed confused. “I don’t…”
“For saving my life…but more importantly, for saving Kat’s.”
Grayson nodded. “I couldn’t let the two of you just die out there.”
Stark smiled. “Go and get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow!” He called after Kat before he got into the back of the car.
“Ugh…So glad to be back…” Grayson said, his voice muffled by his pillow as Kat climbed into bed beside him. He had been advised not to wear a shirt to bed and to change his bandages beforehand. He leaned over to one side, facing Kat. “I’m sorry our vacation got ruined because I landed myself in the hospital.”
Kat sighed and smiled, inching closer to wrap her arms around him. “It’s okay. You made up for it a thousand times over.”
“How’s he doing?” Stark asked as Kat stepped into his workshop the next morning.
“He’s just going to sleep the rest of the day. I’ll go and check on him at lunch.”
“Hey, so, Coulson hasn’t gotten back to me yet about who attacked me…and there’s nothing much on our plates for a bit…How about we go to the island?”
“We’ve seen everything we can see there, Dad.”
“Are you sure?” He raised an eyebrow.
She sighed. “Okay, we’ll go to the island.”
A few minutes later, they were flying across the Pacific Ocean towards the island, landing down where they had before. Stark disassembled his suit and they strode across the grass into a forest.
After a few more minutes, Kat stopped. “I’m not quite sure if this is a good idea.”
“Sure it is. We’re just exploring. Where’s your sense of adventures, Chosen One?”
Kat scowled, but followed after Stark further into the forest until he stopped, putting his hand up to stop Kat and tell her to be quiet. She could hear talking in the forest in front of them, and ducked behind a bush along with Stark.
“You’re telling me that you’ve seen them cross the ocean?”
“I’m sure of it! One of them was clad all in red and gold…the other…I was sure she was Quamachi.”
They could just make out the two figures speaking in a clearing a few yards ahead of them. Both of them were dressed in flowing brown robes with gold and blue embroidery stitched in the flowing figures of clocks and waves. One had spiky dark brown hair that stuck up in all sorts of angles from his head. The other’s hair was about the same shade, just more floppy and hung in his eyes.
“We need to alert Twelve, then…” The spiky-haired one muttered. “It has begun…”
“Wait…shouldn’t we just talk to them…?” The other one asked, but the spiky-haired one was already gone. The man sighed, turning back towards where Kat and Stark were hiding. They ducked and traded what-are-we-going-to-do-now? looks, then listened as the man walked away. They rose to their feet and started walking fast towards the shoreline.
“Okay, so a group of crazy monks lives here. Great. Just great…” Stark muttered. “AND they know about your legend. AND they’ve spotted us…”
“It was your idea to come to the island and explore,” Kat pointed out.
“Let’s just get home…”
“Why, hello there!”
The voice nearly gave both of them heart attacks as the floppy-haired monk appeared almost out of nowhere in front of them. His eyes shown as a friendly smile creeped across his face. “I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you!” He said, stepping forward. Stark instinctively wrapped an arm around Kat’s shoulder and pulled her back a step.
The man looked from Stark to Kat and back again, his eyes registering that he realized they didn’t trust him. “Oh, no, no, no, no, I’m not here to hurt you!” He held up his hands as if to show them that he had no weapons and he meant no harm. “I just want to talk to you!”
Stark shot him a suspicious look before finally asking, “Who are you?”
“I am Eleven!” The man answered enthusiastically.
“No, I asked your name, not your age…or your acting age.”
“But, that IS my name.”
“Your name is Eleven?” Stark raised an eyebrow.
“Well, that wasn’t my birth name, but, yes, my name now is Eleven.” Eleven gave them both a huge smile. “It’s such an honor meeting you…although, I’ve met Quamachi before…”
“Kat,” Kat corrected him.
“Ah…Kat…I like that name…especially given that historically, you had an affinity for cats. Anyway, it’s nice to see you again…and meet you, Mr. Stark.”
“How do you know who I am?”
“Who else would you be?” Eleven laughed. “You know, the inventor’s spirit runs through the Stark family, always has. The last Anthony Stark I knew built the first arc reactor before he fought in the Battle of Old Aquapolis. Guess the knowledge was passed down through the generations or something…”
Kat and Stark glanced at each other, wondering what in the hell Eleven was talking about. “Listen…I think we need to go…” Stark said.
“Oh…” Eleven looked disappointed. “Oh, yes, you should…I’m not quite sure if you are supposed to be here or how Twelve will react…so…” He gave them a sad smile. “The shore…” He turned around and pointed. “…is in that direction.” He turned back to them, nodding. “Have a safe journey back. It was nice meeting you.” With that, he disappeared back into the forest.
“Okay…yeah…that was definitely not weird at all,” Stark said once they made it back to the shore.
“I wonder who those people are…” Kat muttered. “And how Eleven knew us.”
“Some kind of crazy monk cult with numbers for names? I think it’s time to get out of here,” Stark replied as the suit formed around him. Kat sighed and followed after him as he flew back towards Malibu.
18th August 2013, 4:27 AM
Grayson woke up the next day feeling at least well enough to go into the office. He sighed and rolled over to where Kat was dead asleep, spread-eagled on her side of the bed. She wasn’t a very still sleeper, changing positions in her sleep at least six times a night. Grayson would wake up to see her curled up tight beside him or all the way on the other side of the bed, even at times lying on top of him.
Walking into the office a few hours later, Grayson was greeted by seemingly random people, everyone glad to see he was okay and still standing. His secretary ran up to him before he entered his office. “I tried to stop him, but he slipped inside before I was looking,” the man said in a worried voice.
Grayson sighed. “Let me guess…Stark?”
“No…an Agent Coulson…”
Wondering what Coulson was doing there, Grayson stepped into his office. Coulson was standing at the floor to ceiling windows, looking out around the factories that surrounded the building. He turned around towards Grayson. “What can I do for you?” Grayson asked.
“I bring news. It’s good to see that you’re up and about…though I have to say it’s a miracle. The medical team was one hundred percent certain you were going to die…” Coulson paused. “Even an Aquapolian would have been killed by such an injury.”
“What are you saying?” Grayson asked, a bit worried.
Coulson was about to say something, then stopped and started again. “We’ve discovered who it was that attacked Stark. Ivan Vanko. He’s listed on our list of assassins. An Aquapolian, uses his electric abilities in his missions. But we’re having a hard time tracking him down. Barton’s on the case right now. I just wanted to give you a heads up in case Vanko decides to come after you…or Kat or Stark. Keep up your training.” Coulson started to walk towards the door.
“Why would he come after me?” Grayson asked. Coulson stopped and turned back around.
“You stopped him from killing his target. He may be a little ****ed about that or decide you would be a good bargaining chip for Stark.”
“I don’t think Stark cares that much about me.”
Coulson smiled. “You’d be surprised. Have a nice day.” With that, he exited Grayson’s office and made his way through the building to Kat’s office, knocking on the door.
“Come in!” He pushed it open, finding her typing away at her laptop. She looked up, her eyes shining bright as he stepped inside. “Uncle Phil! What are you doing here?” She asked, jumping up from her seat and stepping over to hug him.
“I came to talk to you and Grayson. I’ve already told him, but I thought you should know as well. We’ve identified who attacked you on the racetrack. An electric Aquapolian by the name of Ivan Vanko. We’re currently trying to trace his whereabouts, but I would feel safer if you make sure to stay within Malibu…preferably near Stark or Grayson at all times.”
She nodded. “Yes, of course.”
He paused. “I’m sorry I can’t stay long. I need to get back to base.” He put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “I’m glad to see you so happy…being back with Stark and Grayson in your life…” He sighed. “If only it could have happened sooner. Well, I’ll see you later. Keep in touch.” With that, he left. A few minutes later, after Kat had sat back down on her desk, she heard another knock at her door.
“Come in!” This time, it was Grayson there.
“Did Coulson just come to talk to you about Ivan Vanko?” He asked, closing the door behind him and striding over to her desk.
“Yeah, he said they’re currently tracking him down.”
Grayson nodded, leaning against her desk. “I hope they find him soon…”
She thought for a few moments, then said, “Once they find him, I hope they tell us as soon as possible.”
“Why?” Grayson frowned.
“So Dad and I can give him a piece of our minds.”
“And…I…could, too…” Grayson stammered.
Kat frowned, realizing the error of her speech. “Yes, of course!” She said, spinning around to face him.
“Kat…” He smiled as she stood up, placing his hands on her shoulders. “I understand I’m not as powerful as you and Stark…but I’ve been training…If it comes down to it, I will do everything I can to protect you…” He trailed off at the sharp worry sparking in her eyes. “Anyway…I need to get back to work…” He muttered. Kat was afraid she had hurt him. Before he could step away, she gently grabbed his arm.
“It’s okay,” he said, turning back to her and giving her a warm smile. He bent down and kissed her softly on the cheek. “All I want is for you to remain safe,” he whispered to her before he drew back and walked away.
Eleven stared at the front door of Stark’s house, wondering how exactly he was going to form his greeting. He rang the doorbell and was immediately asked by JARVIS, “May I ask who is calling?”
“Eleven people are calling?”
“No, my name is Eleven.”
Eleven frowned as he realized that the AI was just being sarcastic. “No. My. Name. Is. Eleven. Tell Mr. Stark that a man named Eleven is here.”
“Very well, sir.”
Downstairs in his workshop, Stark was putting on the finishing touches to one of his new repulsors when JARVIS’ voice sounded out. “Sir, there is an Eleven calling upstairs for you.”
“An Eleven. A man named Eleven is calling for you upstairs.” Stark froze, turning slowly towards the computer.
Eleven grinned as the door flew open to reveal Stark’s astonished face. “Surprise! One timelord, at your service.”
“Why are you here?”
“Because of reasons…” Eleven trailed off. “After I met you and…Kat on Aquapolis, I wanted to come by and see if I could help with anything…”
“Nothing’s wrong here, thank you, bye…” But before Stark could close the door on him, Eleven was already inside the house, turning around and admiring the modern architecture and technology.
“Yes, well, I heard about what happened in Monaco…and, of course, there’s that little worry about your health right now,” Eleven mused as he walked through to the living room.
“How do you know about that?” Stark asked, slamming the front door shut and walking after him.
“I’m familiar with the man who made the original technology. Really wasn’t meant to be put into one’s heart without certain adjustments, and I don’t believe you’ve made them,” Eleven said, his eyes on the view outside of the windows. “Ah, you can see Aquapolis from here. Just like the Starks! Have to get themselves into everything! Couldn’t just look at the mysterious island right outside of your window! Had to go and fly to it!”
“Wait…” Stark said, stepping closer. “Did you just say that island is Aquapolis?”
“Yes,” Eleven said, spinning around. “It is Aquapolis. Now, I assume you have questions, Mr. Stark…I’m here to answer them.”
Stark thought about this for a moment, then sighed. “Let me just call Kat and see if she can come over here…”
“Oh, and you wouldn’t mind calling Grayson Strauss for me as well, would you? I don’t have a cell phone yet…”
Stark shot him a confused look. “How do you know Grayson?”
“I don’t. I know of him, though. Very interesting…very key…” Eleven muttered to himself cryptically.
Stark sighed again. “You want anything to drink?”
“Tea, if you have it.”
“How did I know?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“You British and your tea…” Stark muttered as he headed for the kitchen.
“Oh! I’m not British, I’m just from a certain part of Aquapolis where our accents SOUND British to the ear,” Eleven explained.
“Okay…” Stark muttered, filling the kettle up with water and sliding it onto the stove. He walked over into the next room, taking out his phone and dialing Kat.
“Hey, Kat, it’s me, Stark. Listen, you know that guy we ran into on the island?”
“Yeah, him…well, he’s here.”
“He’s here, at the house. Could you possibly make your way over here? Perhaps with your boyfriend in tow?”
“Yeah…I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“So…that island WASN’T there all along? And some people can’t see it?” Grayson asked as he and Kat made their way up to the front steps of Stark’s house.
“Yeah…I don’t know how to explain it…Maybe Eleven has the answers…” Kat muttered as she opened the door. They stepped into the living room to see Eleven sitting on the couch, drinking tea. Stark was standing near the windows, a very weary look on his face.
“Ah, hello!” Eleven sprang up, placing his teacup down on the table in front of him. “Good to see you again, Kat! And you must be Grayson Strauss!” He stepped over to shake Grayson’s hand. “Nice to finally meet you, though I suspect you’ve changed in appearance over the years…” Grayson shot him a confused look as he continued to talk. “Well, anyway, I suspect you have many questions…”
“Um…yeah…” Stark said in as sarcastic a voice as he could muster.
“Excellent!” The sarcasm seemed to sail right over Eleven’s head. “Where is a safe place to talk…? Um…OH! There must be a place where you keep all of your suits! I was just wondering if I could see them?”
“Ah…yes…this is the Mach II model, isn’t it?” Eleven asked, his nose only inches away from the glass of the display case of Stark’s first streamlined suit. “Impressive…” He stepped back to survey the other suits.
Kat had settled into Stark’s desk chair, her feet swinging a few inches above the ground. Eleven fascinated her. He had seen so much…if it was true that the island was Aquapolis…She was practically shaking with excitement. What was he going to tell them? What secrets were they going to discover?
Turning slightly in her chair, she studied her father’s face as he watched Eleven look over the suits. He didn’t seem all that excited about the man showing up at his house. In fact…he seemed a bit worried, as if the stranger was a bad omen. Then again, she knew Stark didn’t believe in luck or omens or that sort of thing. If it weren’t for her, he wouldn’t even believe in angels or demons.
She swung around in the other direction towards Grayson, who just looked so thoroughly confused, she wanted to give him a hug. Eleven’s mention of finally meeting him had made Kat wonder if there was something else about Grayson…he HAD survived wounds that would have killed a normal person…
Swinging back so that she could clearly see Eleven, she raised her voice to catch his attention. “Maybe if you started from the beginning…? That might be easier.”
Eleven spun around, his high level of energy contagious. “Yes, yes…um…do you have anything to write on? Never mind…I brought my own…” He searched in his pockets for a bit until he pulled out a glowing blue sphere. Tossing it into the air, he watched as it hovered at eye level a bit. “I guess you can call this a mini computer. Ancient Aquapolian technology…” He said as the sphere expanded into a hologram that eventually took up the entire room. It reminded Kat of Stark’s computer interface.
“Now…let’s start with the basics, shall we?” Eleven moved to the center of the room. “The universe is made up of four realms, each taking up one corner of our reality. The realm we live in is Midgard, the mortal realm, Earth. There is another realm directly across from us named Asgard, the immortal realm. The other two corners contain Heaven, the realm of angels, and Hell, the realm of demons. Each of these realms has its opposite which maintains balance in the universe. And all of these realms are connected at the center of the universe called the Hall of Origin, where we find the Tesseract…the computer which holds pretty much everything together and dispenses prophecies and whatnot.”
Eleven waved his hand a bit, and an Aquapolian blue crystal cube appeared in the interface in front of him. “The Tesseract,” he said as he continued. “Now, I’m sure you all know the basics of Aquapolis, but to explain what I am…The Tesseract and the gates to all realms need protecting, and the Chosen One does this…but they also need upkeep. There is a cycle of twelve Aquapolians who are taken into the Temple of the Timelords and appointed as kind of upkeepers. Once all twelve die, another twelve are appointed…and we are given numbers as names…the numbers on a face of a clock…”
Eleven hooked a finger underneath a length of string around his neck, drawing out an Aquapolian pendent from underneath his shirt. It was a clock whose both hands were at the eleven position. “Now, the Chosen One has always been both protector of Midgard as well as advisor to the Aquapolian kings. One day, the king of Asgard, Odin, invited her to spend a few centuries in his kingdom, which she agreed to.” His eyes moved over to Grayson. “You don’t know yet, do you?” He asked, half to himself and half to Grayson.
Grayson frowned. “Know what?”
“I’ll skip this part…just sum it up, but remind me to speak to you later…” Eleven muttered before continuing on. “Well, things happened and Odin ended up getting really ticked off at Quamachi, so he banned her from Asgard and destroyed the bridge between Asgard and the Hall of Origin, disrupting the balance of the universe. Demons poured over into Midgard and eventually ended up destroying most of the Aquapolian race. The twelve timelords were left in Aquapolis as the rest of the survivors scattered. We placed a time barrier around the city to ensure that it wouldn’t crumble and that we could live on to protect it. Prophecy goes that once the Chosen One returns with a team of warriors to do battle against the Demon King, the ancient city of Aquapolis will rise again. And…I think that’s about it. Questions?”
“What happened on Asgard to make Odin so ****ed off at her?” Stark asked, gesturing to Kat.
“That…I’ll tell you that later…Politics and whatnot. Boring stuff. Next question.”
“Who is this team of warriors you’re talking about?” Kat asked.
“I don’t have an exact list of people…but I could name two other people in this room who are probably on it. And…well…myself, if you’ll have my help.” He smiled. When there was silence, he frowned. “Um…or not…I could serve as an advisor.”
“No, no, no, I’m just still trying to take it all in. Of course you’re on the team…whatever we will call it…”
Eleven beamed. “Excellent!”
“So, what do we do now?” Grayson asked.
“Train, gather team members, deal with that awful electric type that attacked you earlier this week,” Eleven responded.
“Yeah, you have any information on him?” Stark asked.
“No…unfortunately now. I’m not up to date on everything that’s happened off the island since my last trip off.”
“When was the last time you left the island?” Stark asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Hm…” Eleven paused, thinking. “I believe the 18th century? I’m not quite sure what year, but a lot of people were making quite a fuss about this new little country forming over here, so I just had to come and take a look. We were all tempted to leave towards the beginning of the last century, but we decided we shouldn’t get caught up in human politics, so we stayed on the island.”
“So you’re just now getting caught up on the events of the past…nearly two hundred and fifty years?” Grayson asked.
“Well, I know all of the history and technological advances…just now the day-to-day goings ons…”
“Or the fashion,” Stark said.
“Dad!” Kat protested. Eleven looked perfectly fine in his tweed suit, blue shirt and red bow tie. He looked a bit like a college professor, but the look suited him greatly.
“I don’t think anything’s wrong…bow ties are cool,” Eleven protested. “Though I’m not exactly an expert on what is cool these days. Not apparently like you, Mr. Stark.”
“Call me Stark.”
“Okay…Stark, Kat, Grayson, it was great meeting you, but I must be off. Have to find a place to stay and whatnot…We still have some money left over from the royal treasuries…turns whatever currency we need, so…You wouldn’t happen to know any places I can rent a room, would you?”
“Actually, my old apartment is still vacant,” Kat said. “I can get you in touch with the building manager if you’d like.”
“Oh, great, you’ll get to live in the same building as a timelord,” Stark said to Grayson sarcastically.
“OH! That is perfect! We can schedule a time…I need to speak with you sometime about…stuff…But first, a phone…”
Kat left Stark and Grayson back at Stark’s home to ponder all that Eleven had said as she accompanied the timelord to the nearest cell phone shop. “It’s good to see you and Grayson together again,” Eleven said as they walked down the streets of Malibu.
“You said that it was good to see Grayson and I together again.”
“I did? Whoops, I meant, it’s good to see the two of you together. Quite a nice couple.”
Kat raised an eyebrow, but didn’t press him as they continued to the Verizon Wireless store. Inside, Eleven checked out all of the phones before picking out an iPhone. “These are very useful. We had devices a lot like these back in the day,” he said as they walked back out into the California sunshine.
“What was Aquapolis like back then?”
“Oh, it was grand. The center of technology, politics…ah, the people were interesting, the legends amazing…” He sighed. “I wish you could remember it. You loved Aquapolis…so dearly.”
“You said that the city still stands…why don’t you take us there?” Kat asked, excited about the prospect.
“Well…technically, I wasn’t supposed to leave the island.”
“We’re not technically supposed to leave the island…but…” He stopped, turning to her, his eyes sparking with meaning and nostalgia. In a lowered voice, he said, “As soon as I saw you and Stark, I knew the time had come. And…I couldn’t help myself. I had to come and see…to meet the two of you…to help as much as I can. I’m bringing ancient knowledge to the table that could help in the future…”
“Are they going to come looking for you?” She asked as they started walking again.
He sighed. “Yes, I suppose so…”
“He’s insane,” Stark said.
“So says the man who built a metal flying suit,” Grayson pointed out.
“Why is it that, whenever I say something or someone is crazy, someone has to point out the fact that I am Iron Man?” Stark asked.
“Because no one would be crazy enough to build a metal flying suit except for you. You’re at your own level,” Grayson said.
“I would say get on my level, but I’m afraid people would hurt themselves trying, so I won’t.” Stark paused for a moment. “Something about Eleven skipping over everything that happened in Asgard seems suspicious to me. What in the hell did Kat do to get Odin so ****ed off at her?”
“I don’t know…I’m still trying to figure out what Eleven knows about me…”
“And the matter of this team…” Stark groaned. “Oh, God, I forgot…”
“I need to hire your replacement soon.”
Grayson raised an eyebrow. “I told you, Mike Ross would be an excellent replacement.”
“Yeah, but when I called over to Pearson Darby, I got kind of the feeling that he won’t go unless his boss does. What do you know about Harvey Spector?”
Grayson thought for a moment. “All I know is, I kind of don’t want the two of you in the same room together.”
“Think you…except you’re a lawyer…That is who Harvey Spector is.”
“Well, maybe that means we’ll get along.”
“Or tear each other apart.”
“Point taken. I’ll see about getting both of them. It’s going to take two lawyers to do the job you used to, anyway.”
“Did you seriously just complement me?”
“Yeah, I guess I’m on a streak.”
Grayson sighed. “I’m going to guess making me CEO was the first in this streak.”
“Ah, yes, that was a good decision,” Stark said. “Now, I have work to do…and so do you.”
Kat was staying over at Stark’s house that day, so Grayson was alone in his apartment when he heard the knock on his door. He had been analyzing some of the Stark Industries stock figures that were rolling in from that day. Once again, they were climbing.
He opened the door, surprised to see Eleven standing there until he remembered that the timelord had moved into Kat’s vacant apartment. “Hello there! I hope I’m not interrupting anything…” Eleven said politely.
“Oh…no…I’m just going over some things for work. Did you want to talk? I’m not too busy…” Grayson was just dying to know what had happened on Asgard. Every little bit of story from Kat’s past intrigued him, and he wanted to know exactly why Odin had expelled his girlfriend from the realm of immortals.
“Yes! Great! Is Kat here?” Eleven asked as he strode into the apartment. He studied it with an impressed air. Like Stark, Grayson had furnished his home in a sort of modern steel and glass style. Kat had told him once she absolutely loved the clean lines and look of Stark’s and Grayson’s homes. All three of them had that taste in common.
“Um, no. She’s at Stark’s house for tonight. She stays over a few nights a week, but she’s made her permanent home with Stark for now. Do you want some tea?” Grayson asked, stepping into his kitchen. Kat continuously teased him about his tea drinking. He returned the favor by teasing her about her addiction to coffee.
“Yes, thank you!” Eleven said, sitting down on the black leather couch. He had a clear view of the nighttime Malibu skyline from the floor to ceiling windows. Grayson and Kat would curl up on that sofa for hours, just talking and gazing at the stars they could see over the city lights. Sometimes, Grayson wondered what it was like to fly through that sky. Sometimes, he was jealous of Stark and Kat for being able to do that…
Eleven was silent as Grayson poured his tea, bringing him a mug that Kat had brought for him from Atlanta. The words “Georgia Tech” were printed clearly in gold across its surface. “Thank you…” Eleven said as he took it, though he seemed much less cheerful now…it looked like he was dreading something…
Grayson sat down on a black chair that matched the couch, sipping at his own tea. Eleven took several swallows of his own as if to boost his courage before he started. “What I am about to tell you…the knowledge is yours. Whatever you wish to do with it is up to you. I won’t tell anyone else unless you ask me to.”
“Okay…” This confused Grayson a bit, but he let it slide.
“You know the story of Quamachi being invited to Asgard…Odin invited her there as another step in his plan to control the Aquapolian race…he was planning on marrying her off to his oldest son, Thor. However, that backfired a bit…it wasn’t Thor that Quamachi fell in love with…it was Odin’s younger and adopted son, Loki. When Thor announced his brother’s and Quamachi’s engagement, Odin was furious. He banished Quamachi and destroyed the bridge.”
The entire time he was telling the story, Eleven seemed sad…the saddest Grayson had ever seen him, as if this story of doomed lovers struck him as completely desolate. For Grayson, however, it felt like a punch in the stomach. Of course, what had he expected? Kat was millennia old…she was sure to have found some immortal to love before him…one that she didn’t remember…but still…once he passed on, she would return to this Loki…
“Loki,” Eleven continued, “is the half-Asgardian, half-demon son of the previous Demon King, Laufey. His half-brother Adam desperately tried to get Loki on the side of the demons, but he refused.” Eleven smiled sadly. “It was Quamachi that convinced him that he was more than a half-demon.”
Grayson didn’t want to hear more about Kat and Loki. “So…why are you telling me this?” He asked, his tone more bitter than he had meant it to be.
“Because Loki ended up being reincarnated along with Quamachi…it wasn’t supposed to happen, but…Grayson…YOU are Loki.”
29th August 2013, 10:56 PM
Grayson stared at Eleven for a bit until he asked, “What?”
“You are Loki reincarnated. Don’t ask me how it happened. We’re still trying to work that bit out,” Eleven said.
Grayson thought about this for a few moments. He seemed a little bit relieved, but still…”Then who am I? Grayson Strauss or Loki?”
“Who is she? Kat Stark or Quamachi?” Grayson sighed as Eleven continued, standing up. “You may tell whomever you wish…I would ask her, though, for advice on how she got over her little…identity crisis.” He paused, then said in a lower voice. “And I agree with her. You are no demon. You play a key role in this legend…stay true.”
“What’s up?” Kat asked as she followed Grayson into his apartment about half an hour later. He stepped over to his sofa and sat down, not sure how he should start. “Is something wrong?” She asked, sitting down next to him.
“I talked to Eleven about what happened on Asgard.”
“He said the reason why you were invited there was that Odin planned on marrying you off to his oldest son, Thor.”
“Oh…well, guess that backfired…”
“Yes, well, you ended up falling in love with the wrong brother…Loki…” Grayson sighed. “And apparently I am Loki reincarnated.”
“Wow…” There was silence for a bit.
“Who am I?”
“What? Oh…” She sighed. “Yeah…do you know how our memory system works?”
“Uncle Phil explained it to me when he told me I was the Chosen One. Apparently, all of the memories of our immortal past are stored in the back of our mind. We don’t remember them, but they drive our actions anyway…so, in the end, we’re the same people, just different names.”
Grayson thought about this for a moment before he whispered, “But an angel and a half-demon…”
“We would have never found each other again if it weren’t meant to be.”
Grayson turned to her. She gave him a reassuring smile, wrapping an arm around him.
“I don’t care about your past or who you were born as…I care about you,” she murmured as she buried her face in his shoulder. He sighed and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.
Ten spun around, not quite sure how to answer the question Twelve posited him. “I don’t know…he must be around here somewhere.”
Twelve gazed at him before saying, “Well find him, soon…I need to speak with him…”
“Of course…” Ten said before turning and striding off. “Eleven…” He muttered. “What have you gotten yourself into this time?”
“I think the first thing you need to do is expand the team,” Eleven said to Kat the next day. He had shown up at Stark’s house again, and he, Stark, and Kat were sitting around Stark’s workshop.
“Well, we have Mike…and Barton and Coulson. Isn’t Pepper an Aquapolian as well?” Kat asked Stark.
“Yeah…but I don’t know if she’ll want to come and join this crazy project.”
Eleven shrugged. “It’s not that crazy…”
“Meanwhile…we’re still on the lookout for Vanko, so…Damn it.”
“What?” Kat asked.
“New Year’s is coming up.”
“And….that means…?” Kat had a feeling she knew what it meant. Stark was known for throwing the best parties around. Most likely, he had a huge one planned for this year…No one could peg him as such, but Tony Stark was a sentimental man when it came to his family, and since this was his first New Year’s after being reunited with his daughter, the party was most likely going to be huge.
“YOU need to start planning the party.” Now, Kat had not expected that. She tried to remember if Pepper had told her that she was to plan all of Stark’s parties for him…She felt a bit nervous. Kat knew nothing about planning or throwing this type of party. What if she let Stark down?
“Oh, fun, a party!” Eleven exclaimed. “Now, the BEST parties I ever went to in Aquapolis were thrown by the Stark family…they were legendary, tales were told all the way to Asgard about them.”
“They let timelords go to parties?” Stark asked, raising an eyebrow. It sounded strange to Kat, too. She thought they were more of an order of monks…going to wild parties didn’t really fit into the image in her head of the timelords.
“Yeah, I mean, we weren’t banned from drinking…and we could have families as well. I never ended up settling down, but several of the timelords…they had families…that didn’t survive…” As with most of their conversations with Eleven, it started off happy, then took a sad turn. Luckily, he always seemed to turn it right back around. “But I went to plenty of Stark parties, so I can help you plan this one!”
Kat actually breathed a sigh of relief. Eleven’s energy would help her a lot…as would his advice. “Thank you.”
“This should be fun! New Year’s is only ten days away, though, so we should get started planning right away! Come on!” Eleven jumped up from his seat, as if he were going to run off right that moment to organize a New Year’s party for the ages.
“Now? We’re doing this now?” Kat asked, jumping up along with him. Stark chuckled a bit.
“Hey, and remember Christmas is in a few days, but we’re only having a few people over, so no having to throw a party for that,” Stark pointed out. He reminded her that she still had Christmas shopping to do. Perhaps Eleven would be open to tagging along for that?
“Yes…no…no, I told you that…but…”
Stark usually wasn’t stopped by Grayson’s secretary, which annoyed the CEO to no end sometimes if he had to get work done. He tried telling his secretary that it didn’t matter if his guest was Tony Stark, he ESPECIALLY needed to be stopped before he came into Grayson’s office unannounced. While Stark’s advice was extremely helpful in some matters, he tended more often than not to just show up to Grayson’s office to hang out or distract him.
And now, as he tried to set up a meeting with Pearson Darby to see if they would consider sending over some of their lawyers to work with Stark, Grayson looked up to see that, somehow, Stark had gotten into the room and was sitting in the chair in front of his desk, listening in to his phone call. Grayson sighed inwardly and turned around to the windows behind his desk in an attempt to avoid being distracted.
“Yes…I know Mike…How about this, we can meet around New Year’s…yes, tell them they are invited…okay, thank you…”
“Got the meeting set up?”
Grayson ended the call and swung back around to Stark, glaring at him. “Didn’t I tell you to please call in before you just come walking in here?” He snapped. Very few people would be able to talk like this to Tony Stark and get away with it without a nasty or snide remark. Grayson and Kat were both on that extremely short list.
“It’s important. I had to speak with you.”
Grayson snapped to attention. Had they found Vanko? Good, because he was ready to drop everything and go after that son of a *****. “Did Barton find him?”
“No, it’s not about that…it’s about the holidays.”
Grayson sighed. He reminded himself that, once again, he needed to be patient with Stark. That would be the only way he could survive working with him, which was an entirely different playing field than working for him. “What about the holidays?”
“Well, of course, we have New Year’s, which you have now successfully turned into a business meeting.”
“It’s Harvey Spector. It will be a business meeting for all of five minutes…well, but normal standards. The rest of the night will be spent deterring whether we can let the two of you in the same room together without killing each other.”
“Anyway, yes, that’s pretty big…but Christmas is also coming up…we’re just having it at my house…really small crowd, you, me, Kat, Mike, Eleven, Pepper…”
“You’re inviting Eleven?” At first, it seemed as if the timelord annoyed Stark to no end, but within the course of only a few days, it seemed like Stark had grown to like Eleven’s eccentric quirkiness.
“Yeah, why not? He’s got nowhere else to go for Christmas!”
Grayson sighed. “Did you also come by to discuss Kat?”
“Yeah…um…I have my own ideas, but if you want to do a joint thing…”
“Actually, I’ve already gotten her present.”
“Good, then I should get on that,” Stark said, jumping up.
“Remind me again why you couldn’t just call me?”
“Because I like talking to you face to face,” he replied before walking out of the office.
“No, but seriously, we were probably the coolest kids in school…just no one knew that.”
Grayson laughed and shook his head. “I don’t doubt it.”
“Mike…we were the nerdiest kids in school, and that’s a fact,” Kat pointed out.
“Hey, but look where it got us!” Mike said, motioning around. “I mean, I’m about to start working for Tony Stark, and if you had never excelled at Tech, your longlost father may have never found you.”
“True story,” Stark added. They were all sitting around his living room, a fire burning in the fireplace. Pika was sleeping soundly in Stark’s lap, a fact which Pepper poked fun at instantly. Everyone was dressed casually, just enjoying being together on the holidays.
“How’s the planning coming along, Eleven?” Pepper asked the timelord.
“Ah…it is a secret. Kat and I promise it will be…fantastic.”
Stark shook his head. “I think the sole fact that you have to base the awesomeness on is that I have a TIMELORD planning my NEW YEAR’S party.” Everyone laughed.
“Too bad there wasn’t a Fourteen in your group…” Mike shook his head.
Pika rolled over in Stark’s lap, purring loud enough for Kat to hear him across the room. “It seems as if all of the Starks have a way with cats,” Eleven said.
“Wasn’t this the same type of kitten you had picked out? He looks almost just like…” Pepper trailed off. Pain flashed in Stark’s eyes. “Sorry…” She mumbled.
“No, no, it’s fine…” He said. “I…um…had a kitten picked out for Kat’s first Christmas…you know, Kat…cat? He looked just like Pika, but Grayson, Grayson didn’t know that story when he picked Pika out.”
There was an awkward silence for a few moments until, as always, Stark filled it. “So by this time next year, there will be a new addition to the Stark family, I’m sure.”
Grayson shot him a mock angry glare. “What are you talking about?” Kat laughed at the slight embarrassment in his face. He hated it when Stark brought up any mention of Grayson getting married to his daughter. Not that he didn’t want to…he really didn’t…it was just that Stark was so adamant about asking him in front of other people as a joke…even though he was partially serious. Grayson could tell Stark wanted wedding bells soon.
“Oh, nothing, just that we need to keep the company in the family, that’s all,” Stark teased.
“If I marry him, I’ll no longer be a Stark,” Kat pointed out. Stark made that face that told her that she had stumped him and that he would soon change topics to ensure no one else noticed. Grayson shot her a smile that said it was too late for that.
The rest of the night was spent drinking, laughing, and telling stories. No presents were exchanged; that part of the holidays was done on people’s own terms. Stark offered his guest rooms for everyone to stay the night, but Pepper said she had to return home to spend most of Christmas with her fiancé, and Mike had to fly back to New York the next morning. Eleven stayed to speak with Stark a bit more, but soon was too tired for even his energetic self to stay awake.
Grayson and Kat decided to spend the night in the guest wing. While Grayson was taking a shower, Kat sat downstairs with Stark, petting Pika as the cat sat in her lap, happy and warm. Kat knew that feeling. Though Christmases were nice and cozy when it was just her and Uncle Phil, this one felt extra special now that she was together with Grayson and reunited with her father.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Stark squirm in his seat a bit, finally finding what he was searching for. He held up a small, blue wrapped box. “For you and your obsession with blue stuff.”
Kat laughed. “Wait…” She leaned over in her seat, grabbing the box she had stored there. “This is yours.” She handed her father a red and gold wrapped box.
He laughed at the color scheme. “Seriously?”
“Just open it.”
“No, you first.”
Kat sighed, unwrapping the small box carefully. She placed the blue wrapping paper aside, where Pika immediately started batting at it. Opening the top, she gasped. Inside was a white gold bracelet, intricately detailed with hearts and stars. “It’s beautiful…” She whispered, afraid to pick it up.
“It was your mother’s…” Stark murmured. “She would have wanted you to have it.”
She stared at it for a moment, tears welling up in her eyes. “Thank you…” She whispered, slipping it onto her wrist. It fit perfectly. She studied it for a bit as tears started falling down her face. Stark sighed, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her close for a hug. She sobbed for a few moments until she was finally able to pull herself together.
“Here…” She said, pulling away from him. “Open yours.”
He studied the box for a few moments before opening it. Inside was an Aquapolian crystal pendent, this one a cross instead of the clock that Eleven wore. “Where did you get this?” He asked, lifting it out of the box.
“Eleven made a quick trip out to Aquapolis for me. He said usually Aquapolians are given one at birth, but that isn’t done these days…”
“Thank you, sweetie…” He muttered, slipping it over his neck. “Now I’ll be wearing two glowing blue objects,” he joked.
“By the way, did you…”
“Yup!” He jumped up from his seat and walked over to the Christmas tree, snagging a green package from the pile underneath. “Just got it shipped over a few days ago,” he said, handing it to her.
“I would also get him a gift, but seeing as how I made him CEO…”
She laughed. “Yeah…that was a pretty big one…good night!”
“Good night, sweetheart,” he said, watching as she made her way upstairs. He sighed, looking down at Pika, who sat at his feet, looking up at him. “Well…I would give you egg nog, but it’s spiked, so…”
Grayson was sitting on the bed, gazing out at the stars when she got up to her room. She stepped over and sat down beside him, handing him the green package. “Merry Christmas.”
He smiled and handed her a small package as well. “Merry Christmas, darling,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. She opened her package first and laughed. “What?”
“Great minds think alike,” she said, lifting an Aquapolian pendent from the package. “It’s beautiful…” She whispered. This one was laced through with sapphire, her birthstone. “Thank you…”
He slipped it over her head before he turned to his own present. “Well, this is too large to be a pendent…” He joked before opening it. He stared at the book in front of him. “Where…where did you get this?”
“Dad knows some collector in London who had it.”
He flipped through the book, silent. It was an ancient copy of Henry V. “I can’t…Kat…” He whispered. “How did…you know…”
“You told me.”
“I told you once, offhandedly like months ago.”
“And I listened.”
He smiled, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Thank you…but I don’t think this is the best present I got this Christmas…”
She frowned. “What?”
He leaned down, whispering, “You are.”
She made to hit him, but he laughed, catching her hand and pulling her close to kiss her.
“What is taking you so long?”
Hammer sighed, glancing at the Christmas lights outside of his window. “It’s the holidays…”
“I don’t care. Get it done soon.”
“Vanko is not ready yet.”
“Tell him to get his *** moving. NOW.”
Christmas moved swiftly by. Kat and Eleven were caught up with celebrations for New Year’s while Grayson continued to run Stark’s company. Stark himself spent most of his days in his workshop.
Finally, it was the big night. Stark stepped into the party, amazed by all of the blue that both Aquapolians were able to throw into the décor. The party was packed, but not too much. He wandered around a bit, speaking to a few people, before he found Kat talking to one of the investors.
“There you are, I was about to think you didn’t show up for your own party,” Stark said jokingly.
“Ah, Stark, any predictions for the next quarter?” The man asked.
“No, I would probably talk to our new CEO…who is…where…where is your boyfriend, sweetheart?”
Kat looked around. “Not quite sure, but he’s here…”
“So, I said to Harvey, listen, if we make the move, Stark is the only company we’re really ever going to need,” Mike said.
“Wise words…the Starks now have even more money than the ancient ones,” Eleven said, caught up in the sights and sounds around them.
“Okay, so what was the name we made up for him?” Mike asked Grayson.
“Are you serious?”
“He made it up himself. Let him call himself that.”
“Here comes Harvey,” Mike said as a man with well-groomed dark hair stepped up to them.
“This is probably the three hundredth time I’ve been to a Stark party, and it’s never been this…blue,” the lawyer said.
“Yeah, Kat planned it this year,” Mike said. “She’s a big fan of blue.”
Harvey turned to Grayson. “Harvey Spector,” he said, raising his hand for Grayson to shake.
“Grayson Strauss,” the young CEO replied, shaking his hand. “Mike told me you’re interested in coming to work for Stark.”
“Yeah, well, I heard he promotes his lawyers to CEO, so I just wanted to get in on that action,” Harvey joked. Everyone laughed, drawing Eleven’s attention back to the conversation.
“Oh, hello, sorry, I was caught up with all of the blue. John Smith,” the timelord said, holding his hand out for Harvey to shake.
“Harvey Spector,” the lawyer said, shaking his hand. “How do you know Stark?”
“Oh, we’re friends. I’m working in his new international department.”
“International department?” Harvey raised an eyebrow.
“We’re expanding to England and working with their Department of Defense as well,” Grayson explained.
“Hey, I was wondering where my new lawyer was at,” Stark said, joining the conversation along with Kat. Stark shook hands with Harvey, then introduced him to Kat. While Harvey and Kat were shaking hands, Stark looked over at Mike, who tapped his chest below his bowtie, signaling that Harvey was also an Aquapolian.
While Stark and Harvey talked to the side, Mike turned to Kat. “So, about this little team you’re gathering together…”
“You think Harvey would join up?” Kat asked, keeping her voice low.
Mike shrugged. “Not quite sure, but you could give it a shot. Let’s wait for a bit, though. See how he gets along with Stark first…then we’ll spring Eleven’s true identity on him.”
She turned to see Pepper and Killian. “Hi!” She said, hugging her cousin and nodding to Killian. “How are you? I haven’t seen you since Christmas!”
“Well, we took a vacation, first one in quite a while,” Pepper said.
“How is your research going?” Grayson asked Killian. Kat wasn’t quite sure exactly what type of research he did. Stark was one of his sponsors, but, when she asked her father what his soon-to-be cousin-in-law researched, he wouldn’t give her an answer. Maybe even he didn’t know, but was good enough friends with Killian to trust him with his money.
“It’s hit a slow point, I’m afraid, but we predict that we’ll be moving into a new phase next year.” For some reason, the way Killian answered Grayson drew Eleven’s attention. The timelord studied the scientist, a look of disbelief and distrust crossing his face. Kat was a bit surprised. Eleven had always seem so trustful of people, not the least bit skeptical…Alarm bells went off in her head. Eleven had lived thousands of years, had instincts and senses that she could only dream of. If he didn’t trust Killian…
It unnerved her to the point that she needed a distraction. “Why don’t we go dance?” She asked Grayson. It was, after all, New Year’s, and their first one together. She wanted to spend as much time with him as she could before the investors and politicians and scientists and whatnot caught his attention and tried to talk business with him as well.
Grayson didn’t argue and excused himself from the conversation. Pepper shot them both a large, pleased smile. She, like Stark, was extremely happy to see Grayson and Kat together. Kat also suspected that she had maneuvered a bit, along with Stark, to convince Grayson to Kat out. Pepper and Grayson had worked together for almost a year before Pepper was promoted and Kat came in.
There was a large dance area in Stark’s sprawling living room. Couples slow-danced here, chattering away or simply enjoying some silence and being close to one another. However, Grayson walked right past the dance floor and out onto the long, wrap around balcony. Kat was confused for a bit until she realized that no one was out there.
“Some peace and quiet…and a few moments respite from all of the blue,” Grayson joked. Kat hit him playfully, and he laughed, sliding an arm around her waist and taking one of her hands. She could hear the ocean crashing against the cliffs below them. The moon was bright, silver rays shining off of the water in beautiful patterns. With a sigh of content, she rested her head against his shoulder, enjoying this peaceful moment.
Many times, Kat had asked herself where along the line she had gone right. Grayson was everything she had wished for and more. Her heart had nearly broken on that racetrack, when, for a split few seconds, she thought he would die, that she would lose him…
And thinking back, she realized that she HAD lost him at one point, and now, thousands of years later and a world away, they had found each other again.
Stark sighed, wondering when those dark circles under his eyes had appeared. Staring into the bathroom mirror, he realized that he wasn’t exactly young anymore. After all, his daughter was twenty-two. He had been twenty-six when she was born, but he was never going to admit to anyone that he was rapidly approaching fifty.
The downstairs bathroom was outfitted for multiple guests, but was empty except for Stark at the moment. Everything was going smoothly…He checked his blood toxicity again. That was becoming a habit. Every hour or two, he read the meter, determining how much longer he had to live. It was getting to be an obsession.
He quickly stashed the meter when he heard the bathroom door swing open. He didn’t recognize the man who entered, but, then again, he had a standard list for parties and didn’t always know everyone on the list. This stranger had sort of spiky brown hair, almost the same shade as Eleven’s.
“Quite the party, Mr. Stark.” When he spoke, a thick Scottish accent shone through every word. “I haven’t been to a New Year’s like this in quite a while. Then again, no one throws parties quite like the Starks anymore…” The man adjusted his bowtie in the mirror as he talked. Stark studied him, trying to figure out if he knew this person and what he meant by parties like the Starks. That sounded like something Eleven would say.
“Then again…the Starks are quite an exceptional family, aren’t they?” The stranger turned a knowing gaze to him. Okay, who was this guy?
“Do I know you?” Stark asked, a bit wary.
“No. I’m a friend of Eleven’s.”
“Oh, which number are you?”
8th September 2013, 1:58 AM
“Well, Ten, thank you for making it all the way out here to my party. I’m honored,” Stark said.
“I didn’t come here for the party. I came to speak with you,” Ten said firmly. Stark studied him for a bit as he continued. “You see…for the past three thousand years, we have been keeping a close eye on the Chosen One legend, on the war that is to come. There will be many key players on both sides of this war. Quamachi is not the only one who will face the Demon King and his generals.”
“Kat,” Stark corrected him, a bit irritated.
“Oh, Kat, of course, that’s a perfect name for her…” Ten mused to himself for a bit before his facial expression turned back to stern once more. “You may not believe this, but the fact of the matter is, your being kidnapped and creating that suit is no coincidence…You have just as much of a role to play in this war as your daughter does.”
“Eleven’s already hinted at that, so why would you…”
“We have been kept alive by the time/space energy barrier around Aquapolis for the past three millennia. Please…tell me, what do you think happens when we leave the island for an extended period of time?”
Stark shrugged. “You die?”
“Yes. We die. Eleven’s clock has been ticking for almost a month now. Another few months, and he’ll start aging again, and it will not be reversible. He is staying here to help your team fight, to help this legend progress, but all of his efforts will be wasted if you die,” Ten snapped.
“What do you want me to do?” Stark asked, his voice dangerously low. “I have tried every permutation of every element possible, but none of them work.”
“Then I suggest you turn back to your family and see who most recently had the same inventors spirit as you do, because I do not want to have to repeat this conversation again.”
“Are you threatening me?” Stark snapped, glaring at him.
“Oh…Mr. Stark…I wouldn’t try picking a fight with me right now. Eleven is like a brother to me…” Ten leaned forward, his voice dropping to a mutter. “And do you really think you have a chance against an Aquapolian who has had thousands of years to train his powers?”
Stark refused to answer, just glared at him, refusing to back down from this fight. No timelord was going to come into his home, under his roof, and threaten him, ESPECIALLY if his daughter was here. Because once you started threatening Stark, you could easily start threatening Kat, and that was an entirely new level of stupid in his book.
Timelord, Asgardian, demon, it didn’t matter. He would murder the next person who threatened his daughter’s life.
The shattering of glass was loud and sudden enough to jar Stark out of his confidence completely. The mirrors in front of them seemed to explode outward, shards of glass flying across the room. Miraculously, neither Stark nor Ten were hit by any of the shrapnel. After he had recovered a bit, he turned to the timelord. Ten’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“Let that be your warning, Mr. Stark. I suggest you start digging into your old family records soon. Your life is no longer your own.” Then, almost instantly, Ten’s menacing tone and demeanor changed into a slightly cheerful one. His face relaxed and he shot the billionaire a winning smile. “Happy New Year!” He sang before striding out of the bathroom.
Stark was in shock for a few seconds before he realized that he needed to follow after him, just in case he went after Kat. In his state, he wasn’t thinking entirely clearly. After all, why would a timelord purposefully hurt the Chosen One? He dove out of the bathroom, looking around for Ten, but he was nowhere in sight.
Kat didn’t know how long they spent out on the balcony. She was in such a blissful state, she didn’t care. Finally, she forced herself to glance at a nearby clock. 11:30. So close to 2014. 2013 had been such a wonderful year. Finding her long lost father, reuniting with the love of her life, gaining a new, closeknit group of friends and teammates. How could it possibly improve?
Her question was soon answered.
“Kat…” Grayson’s voice made her squirm with pleasure sometimes, especially when he whispered, sweet and gentle, his voice full of caring.
She lifted her head from his shoulder, looking up into those brilliant turquoise eyes of his. Some said that her eyes were the most brilliant in the universe, changing shades of blue depending on her mood, but she found that claim impossible when she gazed into his.
“This past half year has truly been the most wonderful of my life. And after learning about our past together…I can’t help but think that we were destined to find each other again. That’s why…I wanted to ask you…”
Kat’s eyes widened as he withdrew a small black box from his pocket. Inside was a brilliant white gold band with interlacing rivers of sapphire and Aquapolian crystal.
“Will you marry me?”
Tears sprang to her eyes. She couldn’t believe what was happening. “I…Oh my God, Grayson…I…”
He smiled, patiently waiting for her to collect her thoughts. Finally, she was able to blurt out a yes. Taking the ring from the box, he slid it onto her finger, stashing the box back into her pocket. He gently took her head in his hands and tilted her face towards hers, kissing her deeply.
She could hear the ringing of bells inside. It was midnight.
“Has anyone seen Kat?”
The group turned to Stark, who looked a little bit worried. “She and Grayson went off to dance together a while ago,” Pepper said.
“I’m not quite sure, but, Tony, I wouldn’t bother them…”
“Can I speak to you real quick?” Stark asked Eleven.
“Sure…” They stepped off to the side. “What’s wrong?”
“Ten was here.”
Panic, then sadness, then surprise flashed across the timelord’s face. “Ten? Here?” He breathed. “Why?”
“Apparently, my health is drawing attention from people on the island.”
“Yes, that is a very bad situation…” Eleven muttered, shooting him a meaningful glance. “When are you going to tell Kat?”
“She doesn’t need to know.”
“Yes…she doesn’t need to know. So when her father drops dead unexpectantly, she won’t be torn with grief and sudden anguish…”
“Listen, I just want to talk about your buddy Ten, not get a speech from you.”
“What did he say to you?”
“That I need to get myself fixed soon or else…”
“Yes, that would be wise…”
“He said something about my father’s writings…”
“That would be a good place to start…and soon. You don’t have much time…”
After the party was over, everyone went home, leaving Stark, Kat, and Grayson alone in the house. “Ugh, I guess this will all get cleaned up in the morning,” Stark said, looking around at the trashed living room. “Are you staying here or going over to Grayson’s place?” He asked as Grayson made his way to the front door.
“I think I’ll go over to Grayson’s tonight,” she replied.
Stark stared at her hand for a bit, then grabbed her arm, smiling. He looked up and yelled across the room at Grayson, “Well it was about damn time!” Grayson smiled before he stepped out the door. “So…when’s the date?”
“We haven’t decided yet, but probably sometime in the late summer.”
“Why not any sooner?”
“Pepper’s getting married in the spring, Dad.”
“Then get married next month.”
“That’s a little early.”
“Your mother and I got married three days after I proposed to her.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Good…congratulations,” Stark said, kissing her on the forehead. “I’ll see you in a few days, okay?”
“Okay. Happy New Year’s,” Kat said with a smile before walking towards the door.
“Happy New Year’s, sweetheart,” he called after her.
A few days later, Grayson was sitting at his desk at Stark Industries when a rush of pain suddenly flew down his back. He grimaced, bracing himself as another wave hit him. He scrambled for his phone, dialing Kat’s number.
“Kat…I…” He gasped with pain again, not able to formulate much of a sentence. “I…my back…”
“Okay, wait right there, I’ll be right over!”
When Kat burst into Grayson’s office, she found him doubled over his desk, groaning in agony. She ran over, sliding one of his arms over her shoulder so she could help him to his feet. He cried out in pain as she lifted him up. “I’m sorry…we need to get you down to the car…” They made it down to the car where Happy was waiting without much of an incident.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive him to the hospital?” Happy asked as he raced in the direction of Grayson’s apartment.
“We have the pain medication…he just needs that and sleep,” Kat explained, placing a comforting hand on Grayson’s shoulder. She refused Happy’s help it bring Grayson up to his apartment. She was strong enough to do that. Soon enough, she had sat him down on his bed.
“Meds first, then you sleep,” she ordered, rushing for his kitchen, where the pain medication was kept. He stopped shaking a bit a few seconds after he took it, his eyes starting to glaze over. It was powerful stuff and would knock him out for hours on end. She took off his shoes and socks, unbuttoning his shirt and loosening his tie, taking it off his neck. He managed to change into his own pajama pants himself before he starting to slip away. He lay facedown on the bed, his breath getting steadier. Kat knelt beside him, pushing his hair out of his face.
“You…don’t have…” He started
“I’ll be right here…” She whispered, kissing him on the cheek as he dozed off. She quietly set the timer on her watch and slipped out of the room.
“Are you sure you don’t need me to bring anything else?” Stark asked.
“No, just what’s in that bag…just some clothes…and could you bring Pika?” Kat asked.
“You can’t just leave him here?” He whined.
She sighed. “Okay, I’ll leave him there while I’m gone.”
“I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
Kat opened the door for Stark, who had a duffel bag of her stuff hanging on his shoulder. “How long ago did he pass out?”
“Two hours. He won’t wake up for another four.”
“You sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“You can stay for tonight if you want.”
“Pizza time, then.”
After they had eaten, they sat around, admiring the view from Grayson’s living room windows. “He’ll be out for six hours at a time, then awake for two so that he can eat and such before the medication wears off completely and it’s time to knock him out again.”
“How long did they say this would last?”
Stark grimaced. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, they want to be absolutely sure his nerves are all the way back before he begins work again.”
Stark thought about this for a moment, then sighed. “He’s lucky.” She squirmed in her seat. “What?”
“Nothing,” Kat said.
Stark raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Has..has Grayson told you yet?”
“About…the rest of the legend. What happened on Asgard.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Oh, then, nevermind.”
“You aren’t going to tell me?”
“No…it’s…I’ll let him…”
“Kat…” Stark put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m good at keeping secrets.”
She sighed. “He’s from Asgard.”
“Apparently, he’s the reincarnation of one of Odin’s sons.”
“I thought you were the only one who got the reincarnation deal.”
“Apparently, something happened, and he was reincarnated as well.” She shrugged. “No one really knows why.”
“So what was his immortal name?”
She glared at him. “You’re going to slip up one day and accidently call him that.”
Stark looked taken aback. “No, I’m not.”
“Fine then, you’re going to purposefully call him that one day.”
“Come on, Kat…”
Stark chuckled a bit. Kat hit him. “Don’t you dare tell Grayson I told you that!” She snapped.
“Fine, fine, I won’t,” he said.
A few hours later, Stark crashed on the couch. Kat walked back into Grayson’s bedroom. He was starting to wake up. “Are you hungry?” She asked, sitting down beside him.
He groaned. “Not really…” He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Is there someone else here?”
“Dad’s asleep on the couch. He brought pizza, whenever you’re hungry.”
“Maybe after the next cycle…”
They sat in silence for a bit before Kat rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“I would have died for you, you know that.”
“I’m glad you didn’t…I’m glad you’re still alive, but I don’t like to see you in pain.”
Grayson sighed and wrapped an arm around her. “Well, as long as I’m in pain…it’s a great comfort to have you beside me.”
They both fell asleep about an hour later, Grayson’s arm wrapped around Kat.
The next day, Kat was sitting in the sunny living room, reading a book, when there was a knock at the door. She put her book down and went to open it.
“Hello!” Eleven exclaimed, then realized he was too loud and lowered his voice. “I’m sorry…hello!”
“Don’t worry, he’s passed out completely. A nuclear blast wouldn’t wake him up.”
“Well, that’s good…and bad…” Eleven said as he stepped inside. He held up the bag he was carrying. “I brought some tea and stuff for him.”
“Please don’t tell me you brought biscuits.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “You Brits and your tea.”
“Hey, now, I’m not British, thank you very much, I just sound British,” he said as she went to go put the tea up in the kitchen. “It just so happens I also enjoy tea and biscuits…” Eleven’s eyes were drawn to Grayson’s closed bedroom door. “How is he feeling? That was a rough injury he sustained.”
Kat stared down at the box of tea in her hand. It was Grayson’s favorite…how had Eleven known? Then again, they had begun hanging out a lot lately, probably in correlation to Eleven telling Grayson his true identity. She knew her boyfriend would want to learn as much about his past as he could. “The pain medication knocks him off for hours on end, but he remains clear for the few hours he’s conscious. The last half hour, though…when the medication wears off…”
She was surprised to feel tears run down her face. That was the worst, really. She was only allowed to give him his medication on a set schedule to ensure he did not become addicted to it. During that half hour, the pain returned full force, wracking his body with shudders, and making him yell at times. Kat always stayed curled up beside him, her arms wrapped around his waist, his head buried in her shoulder. It was the only thing she could think of to comfort him before she was allowed to give him his meds. And then, thankfully, he drifted off to sleep.
She hadn’t noticed that Eleven had moved over beside her until the tea box was taken out of her grasp. “Why don’t I make some of this…when is he due to wake up next?” The timelord asked softly. Kat was glad to have him there. Stark would have overreacted as he usually did when she cried. It caused him great pain to see her unhappy, which was why she usually forced back tears in front of him.
“Not for another two hours,” she replied, gesturing to the kettle nearby.
“Ah, well, time enough for me to make a fresh pot for him,” Eleven said cheerfully. “I assume you aren’t too used to drinking much tea? At least warm tea, that is?”
Her tears instantly dissolved into laughter. “No, I was raised in the South. Sweet iced tea was our drink of choice.”
“And, I assume, since Grayson has been so busy running this company of your father’s, you haven’t been educated much on tea?” Eleven asked, filling the kettle with water.
“He started a little while ago, but, yeah…he’s been busy lately…” They had been able to get in visits, with her sleeping over at his place a few nights a week. But they hadn’t been on a date in weeks, which was why it was such a pleasant surprise when he proposed to her on New Year’s.
“Well, not busy enough to not plan your engagement ring…though that was in the works for months…” Eleven said, turning around as the kettle started to heat up, a mischievous smile planted on his face.
“Yeah, he told me you made the trip out to Aquapolis for the Aquapolian crystal…” Kat frowned, worried that this quest had endangered him in some way. “Weren’t you worried that you were going to get caught for leaving the island in the first place?”
The look in Eleven’s eyes told her that, yes, he had been worried. Now she felt terrible for putting him in that position, although she had no idea. Seeing how her face fell, he instantly started waving those thoughts away. “Oh, no, no! It was a pleasure being able to get that ring! Grayson was very excited, and very nervous, though I told him there was no way in the world you would turn him down!” He laughed and winked as he spun around toward the kettle. His energy was contagious, and a warm, happy feeling spread through her.
They sat on the couch in front of the large floor-to-ceiling windows, watching the sky start to turn all shades of pink and orange. Kat loved this time of day. She and Grayson would take time out from their busy routines and either sit on the sofa together or lie in each others’ arms, watching the sunset, quietly whispering together or enjoying the silence.
“Ah, this sunset is beautiful,” Eleven murmured. “Though…not as pretty as on Aquapolis. You should come out to the island one day and enjoy the sunset from there. Of course, you’ll have to time it, completely different time zones…”
“I think Dad, Grayson, and I should come out to the island one day,” Kat agreed.
“Just have a picnic on the beach far from the timelords…Although I would love to see the city one day.”
“The library, oh, the library! We’ve been stocking it with classics throughout the millennia, even some from today! I remember when we finished Harry Potter. Book Seven was a tearjerker. Of course, we also have some first editions…Some I’m sure Grayson would be interested at looking at,” Eleven smiled. “And you are quite the bookworm as well…as you’ve always been…” He glanced around at the small piles of books. She and Grayson were always trading books, always having little one or two hour reading times together, where they would sit and read in silence, occasionally sharing a line or two. Grayson had a penchant for seeking out pretty lines of poetry that made her blush.
“Yeah, sorry it’s kind of a mess here,” Kat said, knocking a Supernatural novel off of the table with her foot accidently. It was one of her favorite shows and the novel series was good. She picked the book back up and set it back on the table.
“You know, I believe that’s what brought you and Loki together in the first place. Your love of reading.” Eleven smiled. “And what seems to have brought you together again three thousand years later. Ah, books…”
There was a groan from the other room. Kat checked her cell phone. “He isn’t really supposed to wake up for another hour…” She was a bit worried as she slipped off of the couch and into his darkening, cool bedroom. This meant he would perhaps be in intense pain for longer than usual before she could give him his medication again.
Grayson had propped himself onto his elbows, gazing out at the sunset that bathed the inside of his bedroom with soft pink light. He turned that brilliant gaze toward her, and she felt her stomach do backflips. Sometimes, she still wasn’t used to how his eyes and voice made her feel. He smiled slightly, though a bit groggily as she sat down on the bed next to him.
He started to push himself up into a sitting position. “Wait, are you sure…?” She started to protest. She didn’t want him to strain his back.
“I can’t stay lying on my stomach all the time,” he said, his words betraying how fuzzy from sleep and medication his mind still was. “I’m a bit early waking up, aren’t I?” He asked as he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close, burying his face into her hair and kissing her on the cheek. It felt good to be near him.
“Yeah…about an hour…” She said, worry straining her voice.
“I’ll be fine,” he murmured reassuringly. “I though I heard you talking to someone outside?”
“Eleven stopped by. He made tea if you want some,” she said, taking care as she wrapped her arm around him to ensure that she didn’t touch his back injury.
“I’m starving,” Grayson admitted, starting to slide off the bed. Kat firmly pushed him back on. She was almost a little too firm. Her angelic strength sometimes made a guest appearance when she wasn’t expecting it. She nearly pushed him right onto his back. “Kat, I…”
“You need to stay here and get some rest. If you strain yourself too much, your recovery time will be longer,” she admonished him.
His face fell. “But I don’t want to be a burden to you, Kat…” The worry in his eyes made her instinctively reach up to kiss him on the cheek.
“It will be fine. I’ll ask Eleven to cook, he’ll enjoy it,” she said, winking. “Want me to bring you anything in the meantime?”
“Well…” He said, thinking, a playful smile pulling at the edges of his mouth. “I WOULD like some tea…”
“Well, after this week is up, Barton wants us all to start training!” Eleven exclaimed. He was sitting in a chair near Grayson’s bed. Kat sat next to Grayson on the bed.
Grayson sighed. “I’m not looking forward to that.”
“But there’s so much to learn! So many fighting techniques…”
“Yes, and so much running to do,” Kat pointed out.
“Well, no one said it was going to be easy…” Eleven thought about this for a moment, then jumped out of his seat. “Well, I must be going so that you can get some rest. It’s about time for you to sleep, isn’t it?”
Grayson glanced over at his clock. “Another half an hour.” He grimaced. Kat could tell the pain was coming back.
“Then I’ll be on my way. Good night!”
“What are you doing down here?” Stark asked as Eleven entered his workshop. Stark was going through some of his father’s files, not getting anywhere helpful.
“Came to see how it’s going. I just came from Grayson’s place. He seems to be doing fine.”
“Good…” Stark mumbled. “I’m not so lucky.”
“Didn’t your father host the first Stark Expo years ago?”
Eleven shrugged. “Could be a clue in that.”
“Like what? A secret message or something?”
“I’m no so sure. Really, we have no idea what we’re looking for…as long as the end result is the same…”
“Why does everyone want me alive so badly?”
Eleven frowned. “Why do you say that? Why would we want you dead?”
Stark sighed. “Listen, just…give me some time. I’ll fix this.”
Eleven sighed, but left without further argument.
15th September 2013, 8:22 PM
Kat was a deep sleeper most of the time and was usually only woken up by alarms. That night, however, she woke up shivering and cold, not knowing what had dragged her out of her sleep until she realized that Grayson was tossing and turning where he lay, mumbling in his sleep. It wasn’t like him to have bad dreams, she thought as she carefully wrapped an arm around his waist, scooting closer to see if her touch could provide him with any comfort.
It had to have been a dream. If he were in pain, he would have woken up by then. Finally, he turned towards her, opening his eyes. She could see terror and pain of the emotional kind flashing through them. “Aya…” He gasped out when he saw her, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close. He clutched at her desperately, as if she would disappear if he didn’t hold her tight enough.
“Grayson…Grayson, what’s wrong?” She asked, trying to look up at him. He was shaking badly, and she could feel his heart racing in his chest. Finally, she was able to draw away enough to where she could gently take his head in her hands and force him to look at her. “Grayson…it’s okay, I’m here…” She whispered.
“You…you…We tried to run, but…they grabbed you…” He gasped. “They grabbed you, and then he banished you…”
None of this made any sense to her, but, then again, it was a dream. She had had some pretty strange ones before. “Grayson…it’s okay. I’m right here. I’m not leaving you.”
“We were going to get married…you were looking forward to showing me your home so much…” Before she knew it, he had burst into tears, shuddering as he pulled her close once more. Suddenly, she realized that his dream wasn’t just a dream, but memories from their past. In the form of a nightmare.
Now she could deal with this. “Grayson,” she said firmly. “No one is going to tear us apart again. We’ll get married and go to Aquapolis one day, I promise.”
“Yes…” He seemed to be calming down. He leaned down and kissed her softly on the cheek, then again on the lips. “Yes…one day…” He whispered before falling asleep again. She breathed a sigh of relief and drifted off a few moments later.
The next morning, Grayson was finally well enough to spend a good deal of time sitting up in bed. “I’m sorry about last night,” he said after she handed him a cup of coffee. “I…I don’t know why I suddenly started dreaming about that day…or why I called you Aya.”
Kat tilted her head to one side thoughtfully. “Maybe we’re getting our memories back.”
“Well, I hope the rest of our memories are a lot happier than that one.”
Kat stepped into Stark’s workshop. The lights were dim, and he was watching some news feed on a screen in front of him. Instead of sitting at his desk, however, he sat in one of his cars. “Hey, Dad,” she said.
He turned, giving her a small smile. “Hey, sweetheart.” He swung open the door on his side, then nearly fell out of the car. Kat suddenly realized it wasn’t because of clumsiness. He had practically collapsed.
“Dad, are you okay?” She gasped, helping him to his feet. He clung onto her tightly, as if she were a life raft.
“Yeah…yeah…just need to get to my desk,” he gasped. She helped him walk over to his chair. “Bottom drawer.” Kat reached into the bottom drawer and pulled out a box, handing it to him. He reached under his shirt and pulled out his arc reactor. Its core was giving off smoke.
“That’s not supposed to be doing that,” Kat said shakily. “Dad…”
“Yeah, I know…” He said, sliding out the core and sliding a new chip in.
“It’s…got to have side effects…that kind of metal can poison you.”
“It is,” he said somberly, replacing the arc reactor and turning to her.
“How long has it been doing that?” She breathed.
“For months. Practically since I had the thing put in. I’ve tried every permutation of every element I can, but…” He glanced over at a box nearby. The words “property of Howard Stark” were printed neatly on its side. “Eleven keeps hinting that there may be something in my dad’s things, but…”
“You haven’t opened the box, have you?” She demanded.
“I’m getting around to it,” he protested.
“Getting around to it?! Dad, you are dying!” She said, almost screaming. “What, you would rather die than open that box and face whatever my grandfather left in there?!” After her voice stopped echoing off of the metal walls of the workshop, there was complete silence. Stark turned to her, his eyes betraying indecision and pain.
Realization dawned on Kat, and terror and despair gripped her. “Do you have a death wish?” She breathed. “Are you just giving up and dying? Why?” She demanded, tears in her eyes.
“I don’t know…” He tried to say, but she didn’t let him finish. No, he was not going to excuse this away with a witty or offhand remark.
“I need you,” she said firmly. “And whatever your plans were so that you thought you could leave me in safe hands…” She shook her head, “Is this why you wanted Grayson and I to get together?”
“IS THIS WHY YOU WANTED GRAYSON AND I TO GET TOGETHER AND TO GET MARRIED SO THAT YOU WOULD NO LONGER HAVE TO STAY ALIVE TO KEEP ME SAFE?”
She was shouting in anguish now. Why couldn’t he understand that she needed her father? All of those years living as an orphan, never knowing what it was like having a father, then being thrust into a whirlwind relationship with her long-lost father…She wouldn’t be able to handle losing him so soon. To have joy so quickly then to have it snatched away again. And didn’t he want to be with her? To have a life with the daughter he had been separated from for over twenty years?
Stark’s eyes widened a bit. Why was he so surprised? Why did it blow his mind that she cared so much about whether or not he was alive? He stood up. Kat could tell he wanted to make a break for it. Tony Stark was good at handling physical problems, science problems, problems he could either solve in his mind or with the suit. Relationship problems were another matter. Perhaps he had been better at solving them before his wife’s death and daughter’s loss broke his heart.
“You nearly died because of me,” Stark finally said firmly, trying to get his point across with anger, but she could only see pain in his eyes. “If it weren’t for Grayson, you wouldn’t be alive. That’s all I want…is for you to be safe.”
“I don’t want to be safe,” she said. “I want you. I want you to still be alive and annoying the hell out of me and everyone around us. I want you to fly with me and explore Aquapolis and every bit of knowledge it has to offer. I want you to walk me down the aisle at my wedding next year. I am the Chosen One. At what point in my life will I ever be safe? If I spend my entire life doing only the safe thing, I will waste the precious mortality that I have been gifted with.”
Kat didn’t know what else to say to try and drill the words inside of his head. Instead, she opted to throw her arms around him, burying her head into his chest and crying like a child. Like a child who was afraid to lose her dad. That was all she really was. Scared.
Stark didn’t react at first, too shocked by her speech to do much but stare at the wall in front of him, wondering how they had reached this point. Then, he realized what was happening and wrapped his arms around her, placing his head on top of hers and stroking her hair to try and calm her down. This just had the effect of upsetting him. Soon, he was in tears as well.
After they had both calmed down, Kat broke away from him, walking over to the box of her grandfather’s things. It was metal, closed with large latches on the side. She flipped them up and pushed open the top. Inside was a mess of papers and lab notebooks. This seemed familiar, she thought, picking a notebook up. She had to use these for some of her classes. However, this one was densely packed with physics and math that she didn’t understand. She handed it over to Stark, knowing that he would make better sense of it.
Next she found a canister of film. It had to be old, older than her. She picked it up and rattled it a bit. There was an old projector in the box as well. Perfect. She heaved it out of the box and walked across the room with it.
“How do you do that?”
“Do what?” She asked, setting it down on a table nearby and fiddling around to see if she could get the film set up correctly in it.
“Just pick up heavy objects like that so easily?”
“How much can the suit lift?” She asked, a mischievous smile on her face. Stark knew instantly she was probably going to beat him in this game.
He shrugged. “On a good day? A tank. What? How much can you lift?” It seemed weird asking his daughter that question. She was short and petite. She didn’t look like she could lift much, but he knew from experience she was strong.
Kat strode over to one of the cars that lined the edge of the shop. She picked out the heaviest one she could find and lifted up the front edge of the car effortlessly. “The thing is,” she said, not the least out of breath. “That it’s hard to lift the whole car just from the front, so…” She ducked underneath the uplifted version and pushed the car up into the air with both hands.
“Seriously?” Stark sighed, shaking his head. “I should have just designed the suit off of your powers.” He watched as Kat carefully put the car back down without one scratch. She didn’t even break a sweat. It amazed him sometimes how powerful and fast she was. He often forgot that when it came down to times of crisis.
“Okay…I’m going to go get Grayson. He’s well enough to travel, and I know if I don’t stay here, you won’t get any work done,” Kat said, walking towards the door.
Stark glanced down at the box at his feet. She was right. It was going to take a lot more pushing from her to make him delve deeper into his father’s secrets. “Okay…” He sighed. “I’ll see about watching whatever’s on this film…”
Grayson groaned as his phone went off, waking him up from the light nap he was trying to take while Kat was over at Stark’s house. He leaned over, successfully not falling off of the bed as he snatched his phone off of the bedside table. Looking at the caller ID, he frowned. It was Pepper. Most likely a business call. She had probably heard by now about his and Kat’s engagement, but Pepper would have come and personally congratulated them.
“Hello?” He sat up, trying to shake sleep from his mind. He needed to catch up on his work. His slipping in and out of consciousness had put him far behind.
“Hi, Grayson, it’s Pepper. I’m sorry if I woke you up. I heard that you were on bedrest…I was hoping I would catch you while you were awake.”
“Oh…no, it’s fine. I need to get back to work soon anyway…” He squinted against the afternoon sun coming through his bedroom window. What time was it anyway?
“I just wanted to call you about the Expo. Did you know that Justin Hammer is planning a weapons presentation at the end of this week?”
Grayson rolled his eyes. Hammer annoyed him to no end. He had not enjoyed their little bout in court, and he was not looking forward to dealing with Hammer on the industry side of things as well. “No, any idea what he’s presenting?”
“Sources tell me he’s running through another prototype of Tony’s suit,” Pepper said. Grayson could practically hear the bitterness through the phone. Good, they were on the same page. Pepper had never liked Stane, either.
“Then we’ll have to look into that.” Grayson glanced up as he heard the front door open and close. Kat stepped into his room, her overnight bag slung over her shoulder. His heart sank a bit. Was she going to stay over at Stark’s tonight and leave him here to sleep alone? “Hold on just a second, Pepper…” He muttered, putting his phone on mute. “Are you going to Stark’s tonight?” He asked, trying his best not to sound like a wounded puppy. He didn’t like to sleep alone.
“Yeah, want me to pack your bag for you?” She asked, motioning to his closet. She smiled as he cheered up considerably.
“Are you sure you want me…”
“There’s plenty of room, Grayson,” she said, opening his closet and choosing one of his smaller bags to start throwing clothes into. “Who are you talking to?”
“Oh…Pepper…sorry.” He unmuted his phone. “I’m sorry, I was speaking with Kat. We’re going over to Stark’s tonight.”
“That’s perfect! Why don’t I drop by later tonight and we can discuss Hammer? I don’t want to stress you out so soon after you’ve recovered, but…”
No, they needed to talk about Hammer now. If he was making additional prototypes of Stark’s suit…this could spell trouble. It all depended, of course, on whether or not the prototypes worked. In the wrong hands, they could prove dangerous. “No, it’s no problem. We’ll see you later on tonight.” He hung up just as his bag went sailing across the room, landing perfectly by the door. He turned around to congratulate Kat on her perfect throw, receiving a face full of a white t-shirt.
“Thanks…” He said, trying not to flinch as he put it on. His pain had subsided enough to where he could wear loose shirts and not take as much of his meds. It still hurt, though. Kat had accidently hugged him the other day, almost causing him to black out.
Grabbing his bag, he carefully placed the strap over his shoulder so as not to let it dig into his wounds. Grayson wrapped an arm around Kat’s waist, enjoying being up and out of bed for the first time in a while.
Stark had finally worked up the nerve to switch on the film projector, settling into his desk chair to flip through some of his father’s notebooks. Most of what he saw was on the basic design of the arc reactor. He ignored the first few films, all rehearsals for Howard’s opening film for the original Stark Expo back in the seventies.
Suddenly, for the first time in twenty years, he heard his father say his name. Stark turned to the screen, a bit unnerved by the sight of Howard looking straight at him, across the decades.
That’s when he realized that this film wasn’t from the seventies. It was newer, crisper, but not from the digital age. “Tony, I don’t know when you’ll see this. Probably not for years from now. Just a few years ago, I learned I was losing power in SHIELD. Last year, I learned of an Initiative formed behind my back with a dark and terrible mission. There are members of the SHIELD council who wish to eradicate Aquapolians. But there is hope. Our family comes from a long line of royal blood, the Starks of ancient Aquapolis. Whether or not you believe the legends, they tell of the Protector of the Earth being reincarnated through our line. This prophecy came to pass a month ago with the birth of your daughter.” He paused. “I know that part of you scoffs at the thought of these legends and prophecies, but I also know that a part of you believes they are real and that the technologies we hold today are far more primitive than those created by our ancestors. The arc reactor was one of those technologies. However, I am limited by the technologies of my time to recreate the arc reactor in its complete form. I have faith that you’ll be able to achieve this and bring back that Aquapolian spark of energy into this world. Watch over Kat. There are people who wish to take her from you. One day, I believe she’ll be as intelligent and creative as you are. But that will not happen if you allow SHIELD to control her life. If you listen to only one sentence that I say in my lifetime, listen to this one. Never. Trust. SHIELD.”
“I’m just saying that a few of us need to be in New York for this presentation,” Pepper said from her spot on the couch across from Grayson and Kat.
“I’ll come,” Kat said.
“I think I should…” Grayson started.
“You aren’t well enough to travel yet,” she pointed out.
“Kat’s right. You don’t need to strain yourself over this,” Pepper pointed out.
Grayson sighed. “This could be detrimental if he succeeds.”
“He won’t,” Kat said firmly, standing up. Pepper and Grayson watched for a few moments as she started pacing.
“The government is still breathing down our backs to hand over the suit,” Pepper said.
“Now’s not the time to deal with them. We’ve got Hammer and Vanko to worry about,” Kat said.
“Has Coulson gotten in touch with you yet about Vanko?” Grayson asked.
She shook her head. “Not yet.”
“Then we should focus on Hammer,” Pepper said grimly.
“There’s no way he could reproduce that suit,” Kat said through gritted teeth. “I watched Dad build it from the ground up, by himself. All I did was help him test it.”
“Are we talking about Hammer?”
They turned to see Stark standing at the top of the stairs that led down to his shop. “Yeah,” Kat said. “He has a weapons demonstration at the Expo at the end of this week.”
“I wouldn’t waste time on him,” Stark said. “He’s got nothing.”
“Some of us still need to show up, Tony,” Pepper pointed out.
“Pepper and I are going,” Kat said. “Grayson can’t make the trip, and you need to stay here,” she said firmly. There was an awkward silence as Stark waited to see if Kat would reveal his secret. When she didn’t, he breathed a small sigh of relief.
“Speaking of, can I talk to you for just a second?”
They walked back down to the shop. “Did you figure it out?” Kat asked.
“Yeah, but we’re going to have to clear everyone out of the house. We’re going to have to make some renovations…”
“I kind of need to build a particle accelerator in here…”
“Seriously?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah…I’m going to need your help with that.”
She sighed. “Okay, when do we start?”
“I’m not going to send Grayson home tonight. We’ll start tearing things up tomorrow.”
He shrugged. “Okay, but then I’m kicking your boyfriend out of the house.”
“Fiance,” she corrected him.
“Oh, yeah, right, I forgot.” Stark said, shooting him a smile that told her that he hadn’t forgotten in the least.
“He’s doing what?” Grayson asked that night, wrapping his arms tighter around Kat.
“He’s doing some renovations and wants me to help out, so…” She flinched. “We’re kind of kicking you out.”
“It’s okay,” Grayson sighed. “I need to get back to work anyway. By the way…when was the last time you spoke to Eleven?”
“A few days ago…” She frowned. “Now that you mention it, I wonder where he’s gone off to…”
Eleven sighed, placing his phone down on the table in front of him. “Not a sign. It’s as if Vanko’s disappeared into thin air.”
“It used to be we could find any Aquapolian anywhere given their type…” Ten sighed. “But now with them all scattered across the Earth like this…”
“He’s starting,” Eleven said, his eyes gazing in the direction of Stark’s Malibu house.
Ten raised an eyebrow. “Finally. It’s amazing how stubborn that man is.”
“All the Starks have been that way,” Eleven reminded him. “It was in their nature. Even Kat’s a bit like that. It’s amazing how alike they are.”
“Okay, no, I need that other pipe there.”
Kat looked over to where Stark was pointing with his wrench at a huge pipe behind her. She picked it up. “Okay, duck.”
“What…hey!” Stark ducked just in time as she swung it around, narrowly missing slamming it into his head.
“I told you to duck,” she sighed. “Now where do you want it?”
“Over there,” he pointed to the apparatus that was already starting to take shape in the workshop. Kat set the pipe down in place, and Stark set to work attaching it to the rest of the pipes.
“Do you have a date set up yet?” He asked as he worked.
She sighed. “No, sometime next summer I think.”
“Why not this spring.”
“Dad, that’s when Pepper’s getting married.”
“So? We could have a double wedding.”
“We are not having a double wedding.”
“Just a suggestion, Kat, don’t kill me.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, what does Killian research?”
“It’s top secret.”
“You’re funding it.”
“Yes, but it’s top secret.”
“Obviously it’s important, otherwise you wouldn’t be funding it.”
He sighed. “Fine. Killian is a geneticist. He’s working on a project involving a virus named Extremis. He’s hoping it can, in the future, regenerate body parts and such.”
She paused. “So that’s why you’re funding it. If it works, you can get that arc reactor taken out of your heart.”
“Well, he’s a few decades away from perfecting it, so, we’re going to have to go with Plan B for now,” he said, gesturing to the machine tacking shape in front of them.
“Do you think he’ll let me on the project?”
“He’s been asking to get you on the project for months now.”
“Why haven’t you told me?” She demanded.
“Because you’re my assistant,” he said, whining a bit.
She rolled her eyes. “Dad…I can’t be your assistant forever.”
Stark paused a bit, and she instantly regretted her choice of words. She didn’t mean that she couldn’t be by his side forever…just that she couldn’t work that job forever… “I meant…I’d like to work on the project, you know, find my own niche in this company…my own legacy…”
Kat had expected the words to simply smooth over her father’s hurt feelings, but they went above and beyond that. He turned away, focusing a little too intensely on tightening the last bolt on the accelerator. She could tell that he was trying to hide how emotional those few sentences had made him.
But they were true. Kat DID want to work at Stark Industries, but she didn’t want to follow in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps exactly. She wanted to branch out, and she could see a future in which she and Stark collaborated on projects that would change the world. They just had to get past all of this business of Stark dying and Vanko still running free in the world. Oh, and she still needed to go back to school.
“Could you hand me that prism over there?” Stark asked, not looking back at her. Kat ducked under the accelerator and grabbed the pure crystal prism that would focus the accelerator and create a new core for the arc reactor. Ducking back under the pipes, she handed it to him and he pushed it into the slot, rotating it until it was completely in place.
“Thanks,” he said, still a bit choked up. She wondered if she needed to leave for a bit to let him get himself together. Stark was not an emotional man…until it came to his daughter…and then he got almost too emotional. “Okay…” He sighed. “Let’s do this. Go grab some goggles, I don’t think it will benefit either of us going blind.”
Kat did as he said and slipped her goggles down over her eyes. She hated wearing these things. They were way too hot, and often fogged up. How was she going to be able to see what was going on?
“Okay, let’s do this,” Stark said, flipping a speech. With a dull roar, the accelerator sprang to life. Particles slammed into the prism, reflecting off and slamming into the wall nearby, cutting a clean, flaming line through the drywall. Kat grimaced as Stark changed the angle, causing the line to cross the room, cutting through cabinets and equipment. They were already going to have to practically rebuild the workshop…
Finally, the particles slammed into the new arc reactor core, causing it to glow with searing hot white light. Stark waited for a few moments until the core started glowing by itself before he killed the power. There were a few moments of silence before he ducked under the pipes and stepped over to the core. Kat followed after him. If this worked, it would be just another in a long list of reasons why her father impressed her so much.
“Well, then…” Stark muttered, picking up the core with a pair of forceps so as not to burn himself. He placed it into the new arc reactor he had built a few days beforehand. It immediately started glowing. “Looks like we’re going to need to name a new element soon…”
18th October 2013, 9:19 PM
The conversations of the crowd around them nearly drowned out Kat’s and Pepper’s as they tried to discuss the upcoming presentation from Hammer Tech. “I thought you said Eleven would be here?” Pepper asked.
“He called me a few days ago and said he and Ten were going to show up…Maybe they’re just late.”
“A time lord is never late!” They turned to see Eleven and Ten sitting down in the seats to Kat’s right. “Hammer’s presentation starts in five minutes,” Eleven said.
“Where’s Stark and Grayson?” Ten asked.
“Dad refused to come, and Grayson’s still not well enough to travel,” Kat explained as the lights dimmed. Loud music started playing, and Hammer appeared on the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight, I present to you the future of the Armed Services!”
Stark rolled back in his chair, admiring the new suit he had created just for the occasion of his new arc reactor. Red and gold like the first modern suit, it featured a triangular spot in the chest where the arc reactor would go instead of a circular one. His phone started to ring, and he rolled over to his desk to answer the video screen. “Hello?”
“Hey, Tony, how’s it going?” Stark froze. It was Vanko.
“Looking for you,” he said, pushing a button to trace the call.
“I’m flattered. You won’t have to look much longer. I have a little demonstration for you today.”
“Really, I thought you would get in league with someone smarter than Hammer.”
“I have. Aquapolians, you know…we’re a powerful kind, but at the same time we hang onto such ancient and outdated legends…”
“So what? You sold your soul to the devil while you sold out your own kind? For what? A few years of safety?”
“When the Chosen One is gone, our people will be safe. Think about it.” There was a click, and he was gone. Stark instantly started dialing the phone again.
“Drones?” Kat asked. Hammer had presented an entire line of drones for each of the branches of the military. “That’s a far cry from Dad’s suit,” she said.
“Something about this seems off…” Ten muttered, squinting at Hammer as he continued to speak.
Grayson rushed into the workshop, nearly colliding with the accelerator. “What is this?” He asked, confused.
“Science experiment,” Stark called from his position beside what looked to be a new suit. “Listen, I’ve found Vanko. He’s been working in league with Hammer this whole time. Something’s going to go down at the Expo, I just know it.”
“Kat’s there…” Grayson muttered to himself, worried.
“Kat’s his target,” Stark said grimly. “I need your help.”
Grayson laughed nervously. “What can I do? I still can’t…”
“I swear to God, if you get one scratch on it it’s coming out of your paycheck.” Grayson raised an eyebrow. “Oh, wait, I forgot, CEO. Anyway…” Stark motioned behind Grayson. He turned. Standing behind him was a silver version of the suit.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Grayson said, turning back to Stark.
“Listen, I need back up on this. Vanko’s up to something big, and I’m going to need someone I can trust to grab Kat and make sure she’s safe while I deal with whatever he’s planning.”
“But, I don’t know how to…”
“Just follow my lead, you’re a fast learner, right?”
A few minutes later, they were both suited up. Grayson stared at the silver body of the suit, flexing his fingers and wondering how in the world he was going to be able to control this.
“Okay, let’s go!” Stark declared, flying a bit off of the ground. Grayson fumbled a bit to see what commands would get him flying and finally succeeded in rising a bit. “After me!”
“Wait…wait!” But Stark was already off. Grayson sighed.
“Would you like me to simply lock you on to Mr. Stark’s flight pattern, Mr. Strauss?” JARVIS asked.
“Yes…please…” Grayson replied, a bit embarrassed.
“Will do, sir.” Soon, Grayson was racing off after Stark.
One of the drones behind Hammer took a step forward. Everyone leaned forward, wondering what kind of demonstration he was going to give. For a second, however, he looked confused, glancing back as he continued talking. There was another huge step, and another of the drones inched forward. Kat pushed herself out of her seat, keeping an eye on the drones, tensed to spring into action. One of them lowered their weapon, aiming at Hammer while the others started lifting off of the ground. Panic ensued as people realized this wasn’t a demonstration. Kat rose off the ground a bit and flew forward, snatching Hammer out of the way as people screamed and ran past. The blast slammed into the empty front row of seats as Kat and Hammer slammed into the ground, rolling over. “HOW, HOW DID YOU DO THAT?” Hammer asked, panicked.
“Stop the drones!” She shouted, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and pulling him to his feet.
He threw up his hands. “I…I don’t have control over them!”
“Vanko! Ivan Vanko does!”
“Where is he?”
“At my facility here in New York.” Kat shoved him away. “Hey, hey, I wouldn’t go over there if I were you!” He started walking along with her as she made her way back towards where Ten, Eleven, and Pepper were.
“Why are you in league with demons?” She demanded.
“Woah, woah, woah, I wouldn’t call them that. I only deal with the mortal side of the business.”
“And that would be?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
Kat grabbed him by the tie, making sure that it wrapped tight around his neck until he was close to choking. “Okay…Okay!” He sputtered. “SHIELD! They’re connected to SHIELD!”
“I thought so,” she muttered to herself as she released him. “Ten, I need you to come with me to Hammer’s facility and stop Vanko. Eleven, Pepper, I need you to deal with Hammer and make sure everyone evacuates.” She and Ten sprinted off in the direction of the parking lot. On their way, Kat started dialing Stark’s phone number, then stopped as she saw a streak of light burst across the sky. “Dad’s here!” She shouted to Ten. “Let’s get on to the car!” Suddenly, a large crash sounded out in front of them. One of the Navy drones had landed only a few yards away.
“I got this!” Ten shouted, rushing forward. Before he could make it to the drone, however, a beam of energy slammed into it, ripping it in two. Kat spun around to see Stark’s Mach II suit land behind her.
“Thanks!” She frowned as the suit stepped forward. “Dad, why are you wearing the Mach II?”
“Stand back!” Ten rushed forward, trying to pull her away. “It may not be him.”
“You need to leave!” It sounded like JARVIS was talking.
She frowned again. “JARVIS? Did Dad send you to pilot the suit?” She saw another streak of light in the sky, too small to be one of the drones. “I guess two suits are better than one.”
Whoever was inside the suit sighed. “No, no, Kat, it’s me!”
She squinted, thinking a bit, until her eyes widened. “Grayson? Why…?”
“Stark needed backup. I’m going to help him stop the drones, but you need to leave.”
“We’re going to stop Vanko,” Ten announced, pulling her back to the parking lot.
“Pepper and Eleven are still here helping people evacuate! Make sure to keep an eye out for them!” Kat said as she started to follow after Ten.
“Be careful!” Grayson called out to them before flying up to rejoin Stark.
“Kat and Ten are going after Vanko!” Grayson said as he flew after Stark.
“Yes, Eleven’s staying to help Pepper evacuate the park.”
Stark sighed. “Okay, l think we should knock a few of these drones out before we head after Vanko.” He fired a laser at one of the drones in front of them, exploding it into bits. Grayson rushed after him, trying to figure out how to use the laser in his suit.
“Trouble sir?” JARVIS asked him. Stark could hear the AI in his helmet as well.
“Is that you or JARVIS?” Stark asked.
“JARVIS,” Grayson sighed.
“No, I meant…”
“Both of you sound a lot alike,” Stark said as he destroyed another drone.
“JARVIS, could you please help me with these lasers?” Grayson asked a bit desperately as a drone started firing at him.
“Of course, Mr. Strauss.” Instantly, the lasers started working on Grayson’s suit. He aimed the beams at a drone that tried to sideswipe Stark, knocking it off target.
“Nice shot!” Stark said.
“Happy!” Kat exclaimed as she and Ten barreled into the parking lot. “We need the car!”
“Where are you going?” Happy asked as Ten slid into the driver seat.
“To Hammer’s facility to stop Vanko. Come on!” Kat exclaimed as she slid into the passenger’s seat. Happy got into the back and they were off.
“Wait, who is this?” Happy asked.
“Name is Ten,” Ten said, focusing on his driving.
“Your name is a number?”
“No time to explain! Just take it as fact!” Ten snapped, swerving around a mini-van. Kat braced herself against the side of the car, trying not to get too flung too far. She had opted out of wearing a seatbelt, wanting to bolt from the car as soon as they got to Hammer Tech headquarters. However, after seeing how Ten drove, she started grasping for the seatbelt.
Then it hit her. “Ten?!” She screeched, the realization striking her as the seatbelt thankfully slid easily into place with a click.
Ten dodged another minivan, then swore loudly when a cop car came into view. “What is it, Kat?!” He shouted, barreling onto an exit ramp, forcing the cop car to stand still in a bit of traffic. Happy looked like he was going to start yelling in the backseat from both fear for his own life and that of the car he took so much pride in.
“How are you able to drive?!” She couldn’t believe she had just gotten into the passenger seat of a car with a three thousand year old time lord who had been stuck on a deserted island for the past three millennia with no cars.
“I’m improvising! Plus, we get off the island every once in a while, see what’s new.” He swore again. “Though I don’t have a damn license. That may be a problem. Hang on everyone!”
Kat’s heart plummeted. He was about to race through a red light. They were so close to Hammer Tech, she could see the lights on the front of the building in the near distance. But, the question remained, would they make it alive?
Ten floored the gas pedal, and with a shout of “Allons-y!” tore through the red light. The screech of tires and car horns made Kat shriek, but they made it out without a scratch. Soon enough, they found themselves at the front doors of the building, everyone but Ten a little shaken up.
“Oh, wow! What a rush!” He shouted, practically leaping out of the car. Kat told Happy to stay there and keep it running before she slid out, nearly landing on her knees with relief that their wild ride was over. It took her a few moments before her brain focused on the task before her.
Get inside. Stop Vanko. Ensure that the drones didn’t destroy the city and kill her father and fiancé in the process.
Really, though, this was no big deal, right?
Ten and Kat strode through the front doors without much trouble, both of them looking determined and on a mission. Though neither of them had a clue about the layout of the inside of the building, Ten’s senses were sharp, he claimed. He could tell when another Aquapolian was in the vicinity, and he was getting sharp hints of an electric-type nearby.
The first guard that they came across hardly had time to give out a shout and raise his gun when Kat swung around, grabbing his wrist and twisting it until it cracked. He cried out in pain, and in one swift motion, she let go of him and punched him out. No need to sound out an alarm to the others.
The next guard barreled down the hallway towards them just as Kat made sure the first one was unconscious. The new guard stopped in his tracks, but no voluntarily. Ten stepped forward, holding out his hand as he controlled the time in the space around the guard. Suddenly, the man was flying backwards into a wall with such force, it cracked a bit.
Kat winced. “Careful, we don’t want to kill any of them.” She rushed forward, slamming her fist hard into the stomach of another assailant, causing him to drop to his knees in pain. A swift kick to the head put him out. She swung her arms around as she heard another crash. A figure went flying past her just as she slammed into another guard.
She was starting to wonder just how much security Hammer really needed when she heard the familiar sound of something taking off into the skies in the distance. Frowning, Kat glanced up just in time to see Ten freeze another guard and throw him against the wall, just hard enough to knock him out.
“That sounded a lot like Dad’s suit…” She muttered. Vanko had mimicked the arc reactor for his little trick in Monaco. She wouldn’t be surprised if he had tried to rebuild the entire suit. In fact…there were rumors that Hammer and many others had tried their hand at doing just that.
It had sounded like a successful takeoff. The drones that were still fighting Stark and Grayson would be on autopilot now.
“We have to find the control center!” She shouted across to Ten, who was already halfway on his way to doing just that. Kat rushed after him for a few steps, but stopped in her tracks when she realized Ten was fully capable of shutting the program down on his own.
With one last shout to Ten, she sprinted through the building back to the front doors, stepping around bodies and managing not to run into any more guards on the way. Happy was still at the car. “Did you see it?” She demanded as she flew down the steps.
From his dazed look, she was certain he had. “Yeah…it was a bit bulkier, but yeah…looked like a suit to me. It was heading back to the Expo.”
“Listen, Happy, you need to drive back and make sure Pepper and Eleven are okay evacuating everyone. I’m going to follow Vanko.”
“Wait, don’t you need a lift?” Happy asked.
“No need.” Kat flew off of the ground a bit, then raced off in the direction that Vanko had taken back to the Expo.
Happy watched her for a bit before shaking his head. “Not even going to question that.”
“Okay, let’s lead them down around the globe!” Stark shouted. He banked down to the large wire globe, causing several of the drones to slam into it. Grayson followed after him, desperately trying to stay out of the way of the drones’ guns. Stark’s plan worked. At least five of them slammed into the globe and exploded.
“How many do we have left?” Grayson asked, glancing behind and around him. Suddenly, he spotted a drone a bit smaller than the others coming straight at him. “Stark? We have another one coming in behind us…This one’s different…”
The drone barreled straight at him, nearly catching up to him. He turned around to fire at it, but someone beat him to it. It spun out, slamming into him. Stark turned around just in time to see both of them coming at him. His first instinct was to bank away, but he could only watch in panic as they slammed into him.
The world spun around and around again. Grayson couldn’t tell which direction the sky and ground were. A scrape of metal alerted him to the fact that they had just flown through an entryway to another pavilion. He could hear the sound of rushing water and tried to remember where they had placed artificial waterways in the park.
The collision sent pain shooting up his back, causing him to nearly scream. He tried desperately not to black out, could feel his body wanting to shut out the pain. He could see stars through the facemask of the suit. Groaning, he rolled over, catching one of Stark’s suit’s red boots in his vision. Stark bent down and offered him a hand to help him up.
“You okay there?” Stark asked as soon as Grayson was on his feet.
“Yeah, just trying not to black out.” Grayson replied. They turned to the drone, both of them freezing when they saw that it wasn’t a drone at all, but a large suit, much like Stane’s, but this time driven by Vanko.
“Seriously? How many people are going to steal my design?” Stark complained.
Vanko took a step forward, a huge smirk on his face. “This time, Stark, I will finish the job.”
Just as Stark and Grayson got ready to attack, something splashed down behind Vanko. The water started to rise a bit, as if an unseen force lifted it from the stream. Vanko turned around, allowing Stark and Grayson to see who or what had arrived. Kat stood pretty much on dry ground in the middle of the stream, the water churning through the air around her, her eyes dangerously bright.
“Leave them!” She snapped, her eyes shining brighter.
Vanko smiled. “This is not your fight, Chosen One.”
She tilted her head to the side, a simple enough gesture, but so intimidating, even Grayson and Stark shrank back a little. “Oh, no…you will not touch either of them.”
Vanko took a step closer to her. “Kat…” Stark muttered a warning.
Before either he or Grayson could react, Vanko raised one of the electric arms on the suit and sent it flying at Kat. She flew out of the way just in time before it slammed down into the water. They took this chance to start firing at Vanko from behind. He turned around, swinging the electric arms at them. Grayson was able to fly out of the way, but Stark was caught off guard, the arm snaking around him and crushing his suit a bit. Grayson flew back to try and free Stark, but was caught by Vanko’s other arm.
Stark tried to raise his arms to fire at Vanko, but it was no use. Kat slammed into the arm holding him, causing it to falter just enough. Both arms started to malfunction, and Vanko dropped Stark and Grayson. “Get out of here! I’ll finish him!” Kat said, shoving Stark towards the exit.
“We’re not leaving…”
“Go now!” She screeched. Grayson was trying to push himself to his feet on the other side of Vanko. Stark flew over and grabbed him, flying up and out of the pavilion to the edge of the Expo, far enough away for whatever Kat was planning. They slammed into a rooftop and rolled a bit before coming to a stop. Grayson struggled to his feet, gazing out at the pavilion.
Vanko stepped closer to Kat, smirking at her. “Go ahead, Chosen One. But know this. The end is coming. It would be best for you and your family to stand down and let history march on.”
“I let it march on once…I promised that I would never do that again.”
Stark and Grayson watched in horror as the pavilion exploded, flames shooting up into the skies. “Kat…” Grayson gasped. Stark was driven to silence. They watched, waiting to see if Kat would fly out. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. No sign of her.
Just as they were about to fly back and try to find her…God forbid to find her body…From beside Stark, someone said, “Well, you DID want the Expo to go out with a bang.”
Stark couldn’t believe his eyes. Standing beside him, completely unhurt, but a little fazed and a little tired, was Kat. Forgetting all decorum (and, after all, the only other person there was her fiancé, who was just as ecstatic about her being alive as he was), Stark threw his arms around her, burying his face in her hair. Relief spread through him. “I thought you were dead…” He breathed.
“One of the first lessons Barton taught me was how to make force fields while still using my powers,” Kat said as she pulled away, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. Stark stood back as Grayson rushed forward and swung Kat up into his arms, causing her to shriek a bit like a five-year-old as he kissed her on the cheek. “Okay, so, I thought you said that you would never let anyone fly the suits?” She asked her father, one eyebrow raised.
He shrugged. “He’s family. Besides, it was under one condition: not a scratch.” Stark sighed and waved at Grayson’s suit. “Though he completely ignored that condition.”
Kat laughed and turned to Grayson. “You should have seen all of the bullet holes he got in the Mach III after he took it out for a solo mission the first time.”
Grayson laughed, causing Stark to roll his eyes and turn back to the park. “We should probably get down and make sure Ten, Eleven, and Pepper are okay,” he grumbled, taking off for the very edges of the park.
“So Vanko was selling off his own kind…” Eleven shook his head, jumping up from his seat and pacing back and forth. The group was gathered around the steps of the ruined Expo grand pavilion, everyone safe and sound. Pepper had reported that everyone was evacuated safely from the park, so attention was now turned to Vanko’s plans and Hammer’s sponsors.
“Hammer was selling out to demons,” Kat muttered. “No matter how much he claimed that he only worked with SHIELD. Which raises the question…why is SHIELD working with demons?”
“Please don’t mistake the council’s actions for the rest of us.”
As usual, Coulson was his cool and calm self as he strode to the group. He took a look around at the destroyed Expo and nodded. “Good work. We’re getting onto the media, saying that the drones just went out of control, but were stopped by Stark.” He paused, glancing around. “There have been rumors for years that the SHIELD council has been dealing with demons. What happened today was proof of that. There’s a group of us in SHIELD that are trying to stop the council from the shadows…but it’s hard. We’re going to need your help.” Coulson looked around at the group. “Every last one of you. We’re going to need your help when this all comes to a head.”
“So what do we do now?” Kat asked.
“Wait. And research. And make sure you’re trained and ready.” With that, he walked off.
“Bet that you are glad that we don’t talk that cryptically,” Ten said, sighing.
Kat frowned. “What if Stane and Hammer were connected? What if there’s someone else behind the scenes that the SHIELD council is sponsoring?”
“Telephone’s for you.”
Hammer looked up from his seat in the small prison cell. He followed the guard to the telephone, turning his back so he could speak quietly. “Hello?”
“I guess I have to do everything around here, don’t I?”
Hammer shook his head. “They have time lords with them. We didn’t expect that. We didn’t expect the Chosen One to be so powerful.”
“Never underestimate her. I thought I told you that. Stane made that mistake.”
“I…I won’t make it.”
“No, you won’t make another mistake again, will you?”
With dread, Hammer turned towards the guard, who slipped his gun out of its holster
One to go.
And still, there are so many questions.
Who was behind all of these attacks?
What dangers are ahead?
Why is Stark so important to the prophecy of the Chosen One?
We have finished the second part of our tale, dear reader.
It’s time to begin the third and final journey.
2nd November 2013, 6:41 AM
Four months later.
Harvey had to yell over the music to be heard. “How does it feel to be rapidly approaching fifty?”
“I don’t know, I think you’re going to have to recalculate, because you’ve gotten my age way off!” Stark shouted back with a smirk as he took a sip of the drink in his hand. “I think you meant to ask how does it feel to be rapidly approaching forty?”
“Well unless you had Kat when you were in high school, I’m pretty sure my math is completely correct!” Harvey joked, glancing around at the crowded room.
“What are you talking about?! I graduated from college when I was 17!”
“I thought you met your wife in college? Didn’t you get married when you were 26?”
“I got my first bachelor’s at 17, we met in grad school!”
“So you are owning up to the fact that you just turned 49?!”
“Not so loud! People might believe you!”
“Yeah, if people could hear you!” They turned to see Mike stepping over to them. “Why is the music so loud?!”
“It’s a party!” Stark said, spreading his arms as if to say duh.
“Well, no one is taking advantage of dancing to it!”
“That’s because they’re all too busy watching Ten and Eleven have a dance-off!”
“Are you serious?! Where?!”
“Over towards the steps! I think Eleven is winning!”
As Mike scurried away to watch the two time lords dance, Pepper walked up with Killian. “Congratulations!” She said when she saw Stark.
“Living this long!” She teased. Stark rolled his eyes. “I think Caroline mentioned one time that she didn’t think you would last past forty with all of the trouble you got into!”
“Yeah, wait until she hears about the suit!” Stark laughed, though Pepper could tell that he was a bit pained. Bringing up her cousin was a sore subject, especially around holidays. She instantly regretted mentioning Caroline and was relieved when Stark changed the subject. “Congratulations again!” This was directed at both her and Killian.
“Thank you!” Killian said, wrapping an arm around his wife’s waist. “Hopefully, with things winding down a bit in Atlanta, we’ll be able to spend more time together!” Stark had heard that Killian’s experimental trials were entering the next phase, giving him some time off while his scientists were crunching numbers. He had started hiring and pulling engineers from Kat’s school to help with the project, which would revolutionize regenerative medicine.
As his thoughts trailed to that subject they switched, as they often did, to his daughter. Where was Kat? He glanced around, vaguely aware that Killian was continuing to talk. Scanning the crowd, he had a hard time finding her. Even in heels, she was pretty short…
Great, had Pepper just asked him a question? “Yeah?” He turned around. “Sorry, looking for Kat.” That got him off the hook with his cousin. Pepper knew how antsy he got sometimes when he didn’t know where Kat was, as if she would disappear out of his life once again.
“I was just asking if Kat and Grayson have set a date?”
“I think they said sometime around May 21.”
Pepper lifted an eyebrow. She didn’t speak for the longest time, until she murmured only loud enough for him to hear. “Your wedding anniversary?”
“You know Kat, she likes symbolism.” Another smile, another expression that told Pepper he was fighting back some emotions. “I just want them to get married as soon as possible.”
She smiled, knowing how hard it was for Stark to let go of Kat a little bit so soon after her found her again. But Grayson was a perfect match for Stark’s daughter, and he knew it. Stark had pushed the two together after seeing how much they cared for each other. He wanted Kat to be as happy with Grayson as Stark was with her mother.
“I think Kat’s watching Ten and Eleven!” Mike said.
“Thanks!” Stark said good-bye to Pepper and Killian and wove through the crowd. Unfortunately, Ten and Eleven had stopped dancing, and the crowd was busy milling about. Kat was laughing and talking with Eleven, who seemed a bit out of breath. “There you are! I was beginning to worry that you didn’t show up!”
Kat turned to him, laughing. “You thought I would miss your birthday party?! Seriously?!” She asked, pushing a strand of golden blonde hair out of her eyes. “Why would I do that?!”
“I heard you were dancing up a show a little while ago!” Stark said to Eleven.
The timelord shrugged. “The best way to celebrate is to dance! I just happen to be exceptionally good at it!” He left to try and find Ten.
“Pepper and Killian are here! They were asking about the date for the wedding! I hope I got it right…May 21, right?!” Stark said as he stepped closer to Kat.
“Yeah! I think we finalized that a few days ago!”
“Do you want me to start making arrangements?!”
She shook her head. “I don’t want it to be big, Dad! Just family and friends!”
“Where do you want it?!”
“I think Ten and Eleven said something about being able to sneak into this chapel on near the edges of the island!”
“How are we going to get a priest out there?!”
“We don’t! Eleven said the timelords married people all the time!”
“Okay, speaking of, where’s your fiancé?!”
“I think he’s talking to some stockholders!”
“Seriously?! It’s a party!”
“Yeah, well, they cornered him and he’s trying to get out of it!”
“I’ll rescue him!” Kat followed Stark through the large crowd to where Grayson was speaking with several investors and stockholders. She could tell he was desperately trying to break away. “Didn’t anyone tell you to take a day off?!” He asked Grayson. “Sorry, guys, I’ve got to borrow him. Family business and whatnot, plus we’ve got a wedding to discuss!” Grayson shot Stark a grateful look as the billionaire pulled him away and towards Kat. “You’re welcome!”
“I don’t know how I let them corner me!”
“Glad to come to the rescue!” Stark said as Grayson slipped an arm around Kat.
“Has Killian spoken to you about the next phase of his project?!”
“Yeah, wait…” Stark frowned. “Did he talk to you about it?!”
“Just that he was starting the next phase! I honestly don’t understand a word he says about the actual project itself!” Grayson said sheepishly.
“Don’t worry, leave that to the engineers!” Stark said, grinning at Kat as she laughed.
The party wound down after a few hours. Kat and Grayson decided to stay at Stark’s house, crashing in their room after about an hour. Kat had just fallen asleep, curled up beside Grayson when JARVIS’ voice sounded in their room. “Miss Stark, Mr. Strauss, Mr. Stark would like to see you in his workshop.”
Kat groaned and sat up a little. “Tell him it could wait for the morning.”
“He says it’s urgent.”
After shaking Grayson awake, Kat pulled on some jeans and they both made their way grumpily to Stark’s basement workshop. He was sitting in front of one of the large video screens. Kat’s heart plummeted. Stark looked a bit drained. Was it his heart again? They had just gone through this months earlier with the arc reactor poisoning his heart. He had literally created a new element for a new core, so that couldn’t be it…Maybe it was something else?
Then she realized it couldn’t be his heart. The reactor looked perfectly fine in his chest, and he wasn’t struggling to breathe. She shook her head. It was way too early in the morning to be jumping to conclusions. “What is it?” She asked, trying to keep the sting out of her voice. A little pissed that she had been woken up just as she was falling asleep, she wasn’t in the mood for what Stark had to say.
But then again, once he started to speak, there was no possible mood she would have been in to be prepared for what Stark had to say.
“I got a call from Coulson a few minutes ago to turn on the TV. Someone hijacked the satellites to play a message…” He spun around in his seat, grabbing one of the remotes as Kat stepped closer. He looked up at her. “This is bad, Kat.”
Her eyes were drawn to the screen directly in front of her. It was completely blood red with the symbol of ten rings surrounding it. They looked so familiar to Kat…She gasped. “That…those were the people…”
“Who kidnapped me, yes…They were paid by Stane to kill me. They’re linked to Stane, who was linked to Hammer…This has been going back for at least a year…but that isn’t the worst of it…”
Her attention returned to the screen. Grayson made his way over, a little bit more awake. He had been quiet this entire time, not quite comprehending what was going on.
Then the voice spoke. It was a man’s voice, slow, authoritative, almost preacher-like in quality. A disembodied voice speaking only threw the Ten Rings’ symbol.
“Three thousand years ago, a civilization was wiped off of the face of the earth. They were called the Aquapolians.”
The screen cut to an image of several ruins. They were meant to be those left by the Aquapolian people, but Kat knew better. None of her people’s buildings were in ruins, all tucked away within a time-space bubble on their secluded island.
“They terrorized human civilizations using their elemental powers. If not for a natural disaster that destroyed their country, they would have taken over the world completely.”
A map of the world, more pictures of ruins, these clearly of different civilizations. Egyptian. Greek. Aztec.
“Unfortunately, many Aquapolians survived. Their descendants walk the earth today. They have the potential to take over the world as we know it.”
Explosions, camera feeds of several Aquapolians using fire and electricity to attack people.
“That is why they must be stopped. To save humanity. Many of you know of the attack and explosions caused at the Stark Expo four months ago. That…was the work of Aquapolians.”
Pictures of crowds of people walking along city streets.
“They look just like you and me. The enemy walks amongst us. Which is why we must wipe them out once again…
“You have been warned.”
As soon as it turned off, Kat tried to fight back the panic rising in her. “No…”
“How could they possibly know…” Grayson started.
“No…no, no, no, no,” Kat murmured, placing her head in her hands. “This is not happening…this can’t be happening.”
Stark sighed. “I got in touch with Coulson. He said we need to stay here until further notice. No going to the office, nothing.”
“What are they going to say when I don’t show up for work in the morning?” Grayson asked.
“You’re the CEO, you’re excused. Not like you’re going to get fired.”
“We need to call Ten and Eleven and have them get here NOW,” Kat said, her voice shaky.
“We’re safe here,” Stark assured her, misunderstanding why she was on the verge of breaking down.
“Yes, but not all of them are!” She shrieked.
“All of who?”
“All of the Aquapolians! He just declared a war on every last one of them! He’s trying to turn the governments against us…” She started gasping for breath.
“Kat, sweetheart…” Stark said, standing up from his seat as Grayson stepped over to put an arm around her.
“It’s fine, Kat, listen, let’s talk to Ten and Eleven before we get upset over this,” Grayson murmured as she burst into tears.
Stark looked on helplessly, then finally said, “Take her back upstairs. She needs some sleep. I’ll call Ten and Eleven.” Grayson hurried Kat out of the room as Stark turned back to the monitor, frowning as he dialed the timelords.
“It’s just what the demons want…to wipe out the last of the Aquapolians…” Kat gasped. Grayson had sat her down on their bed to recover.
“Hush, Kat…just try to sleep,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her down to lie next to him. She curled up a bit and sobbed for a while longer. He could only hold her and listen to her as she cried herself to sleep.
Kat woke up several times that night suddenly from nightmares. People dying. Her family being hunted. Grayson always seemed to startle awake with her. He was having just as hard a time sleeping as she was. Finally, Kat moved over closer to him, so frustrated that she laid her head on his chest and started to bawl. He had just been drifting off to sleep, but his attention turned immediately to her. He wrapped his arms around her and rolled over, pulling her close. They both fell back into fitful sleep.
Kat woke first the next morning, sitting up and staring blindly out of the floor to ceiling windows in the room. Grayson stirred a bit and slowly sat up as well, glancing out to where the sun was rising. He slid an arm around her waist, leaning forward to place his chin on her shoulder. They sat in silence for a moment before he murmured, “It’s going to be okay…”
She didn’t answer for the longest time, then turned slowly to him, her blue eyes bright with fear. “Are you sure?” She whispered, tears in her eyes. He felt helpless to stop her from crying again. What could he do? True, he was an immortal, but he didn’t have all of his powers at his disposal…
All he could do was try to comfort her as best he could. He slid is arm from around her waist and put both hands on her shoulders, turning her towards him. “Kat…” He murmured, placing both hands on either side of her face and forcing her to look up at him. “I may not be at my full potential right now as far as my powers go, but I promise that I will not let any harm come to you.” He paused, realizing that he was in no position to make that promise. She was much more powerful than him at the moment.
But he promised her anyway. He couldn’t bear the thought of her feeling as if she were in danger, scared to the core. He leaned forward, brushing a kiss on her cheek and wrapping his arms around her once again. She folded herself into his arms, pressing her face against his shoulder.
“No, no, this is definitely bad news,” Ten said, nodding, as he re-watched the Ten Rings video. “Back in ancient times, we didn’t have to worry about humans turning against us. We were so many and so secluded from the rest of the world…”
“Have you contacted SHIELD to see if they can trace the video?” Eleven asked.
“Everyone’s working on it, but no one can find who made it, though I’m sure it’s someone in the Middle East,” Stark said.
“Why the Middle East?” Ten said, turning around and taking off his glasses.
“The Ten Rings was the group that kidnapped me last year,” Stark explained.
“I’m sure they’ve got a foothold or some kind of sponsor here in America as well,” Eleven muttered.
“I wouldn’t be surprised…Until SHIELD sends word on where these people are, we’re on lockdown,” Stark said.
“Are we sure the SHIELD council isn’t behind this?” Ten asked.
Stark paused in thought for a second. “Correction, until Coulson’s side of SHIELD sends word on where these people are, we’re on lockdown.”
“You want us on lockdown as well?” Eleven asked, raising an eyebrow. “Because we can do a lot of leg work on this.”
“And you can also prove helpful if we get attacked. No, I’ll call Barton. He can fly under the radar better than you two can.”
Ten scoffed at this. “How?”
“You two kind of stand out, especially in energy signatures,” Stark explained.
“Well, we can’t help it,” Ten said, smiling. “We’ve had millennia to build up our powers.”
“Which is why I want you here, guarding the house.”
“Where are Kat and Grayson?” Ten asked.
“Upstairs, asleep.” Stark paused. “She was pretty upset over that video.”
“As well she should be,” Eleven said. “We all should be upset over this attack…this direct attack on our own people. We are so few in number…” He muttered. “This could prove catastrophic.”
Jemma couldn’t help but glance in her rearview mirror every few minutes, just to make sure no one was following her. She was only a few hours away from Malibu, and she couldn’t afford to be captured so close to her goal. She glanced down at the suitcase on the passenger’s seat, then back up at the road before her, pressing on the gas a bit and speeding down the highway.
Kat woke with another start, this time squinting against the bright sun outside. How long had they been asleep? She shifted a bit, trying not to wake Grayson. He had his arms around her, his face pressed against the back of her neck. He was sleeping so soundly and so peacefully… Suddenly, he hugged her closer in his sleep, sighing deeply. “Kat…”
“Mmm….what…?” She murmured, turning over until they were face-to-face. After a few seconds, he didn’t respond. She wondered for a few moments if he was asleep until he sighed again. She poked him. “Are you awake?” She whispered.
He groaned and opened his eyes a bit. “What?” He murmured, stretching a bit. His long legs and arms took up most of the bed.
“You were talking in your sleep,” she whispered, snuggling closer as he wrapped an arm around her again.
“Mmm…what was I saying?”
“You were whispering my name.”
“Was I?” He sighed, content. “I was just making sure you were still here…”
“Where else would I be?”
He thought about this for a moment. “I don’t know…I just want you to stay here…”
JARVIS’ voice sounded out. “Miss Stark?”
She groaned. “Yes, JARVIS?”
“Mr. Stark says that he wishes to see you downstairs as soon as you awake.”
“I’m still sleeping, JARVIS.”
“It doesn’t appear so, Miss Stark.”
“Can’t get anything past you, can I?”
“Well, Mr. Stark does say that I am quite observant.”
She groaned and rolled out of bed, managing to slip out of Grayson’s arms as he tried to pull her back in. “Does he want to see Mr. Strauss as well?”
“That would most likely be a good idea, ma’am.”
She tugged at Grayson’s shirt. “Come on, time to get up…”
“No…” He said, turning over and burying his face in his pillow like a child. “No…” He repeated, his voice muffled. He was like a big child.
Kat sighed, walking around to the other side of the bed and grabbing his shirt, tugging on it hard. She succeeded in pulling him completely off the bed, and he let out a muffled shout when he hit the ground. He lay facedown for a bit before groaning and rolling over, looking up at her with a hurt expression on his face. “Why?” He asked, giving her his best puppy dog eyes.
“Because…” She said, kneeling down in front of him. “There might be food and coffee downstairs.”
He thought about this for a moment and pushed himself onto his elbows. “Fair point…” Pushing up into a sitting position, he grabbed Kat before she could stand up and pulled her closer. She protested a bit, mumbling something about how they needed to get downstairs, but he wouldn’t hear it. Placing both hands on either side of her face, he kissed her gently. After a few moments, he pulled away, placed a soft kiss on her cheek, and whispered in her ear, “I love you.”
She smiled, wrapping her arms around him. “I love you, too,” she whispered softly.
“I’m not going to let anything harm you…” He murmured.
Another wave of panic overcame her, but it was soon dispelled by him pulling her close. She instinctively folded into his arms, curling up against him like a child. Her ear was pressed against his chest, where she could clearly hear his heartbeat. She had never been so close to anyone in her life and wondered if they had spent days like this during their time together on Asgard, curled up in each others’ arms, thinking they had an eternity together.
And how miraculous it was that they had found each other again, three thousand years later, when they had both been reincarnated into their mortal lives? Some may scoff at the words “fate” and “destiny,” but for Loki and Quamachi, those words defined the very core of their relationship. Here they were, millennia later, in each others’ embrace once again.
If all of this were true, Kat thought, then there was no reason to panic. They were part of such a strong team, filled with people whose hearts and minds were turned towards protecting Midgard and its people (whether human or Aquapolian). She was ready to fight side-by-side with Grayson, even if it meant giving up her mortal life to stop the terrors that were threatening her precious realm.
The scent of coffee coming from downstairs finally convinced them both to get up and get dressed, albeit still reluctantly. Usually, Grayson dressed so nicely, but today was definitely a t-shirt and jeans day. They trudged out of their room, Grayson nearly looking like he wanted to murder someone. Ten, Eleven, and Stark were gathered together in the kitchen, a box of donuts sitting in the middle of the island. Kat made straight for the coffee pot. “Any news?” She asked Stark, who was leaning against the counter a few feet away.
“No, Coulson’s division is trying to track the broadcast as we speak. Now we play the waiting game.” He took a sip of his coffee. “By the way, this house is on lockdown.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone stays inside so we can ensure that we’re all safe,” Eleven explained.
“Wait…they’re going to notice when I don’t come into work today,” Grayson pointed out.
“Call the office, tell them you’re taking a few days off,” Stark said.
“I can’t do that…”
“You’re the CEO, of course you can do that.”
Grayson didn’t look happy about this in the least, but he perked up a bit after Kat handed him a cup of coffee. She slid into the seat next to Eleven and grabbed a jelly donut out of the box. “Good choice, always go with the strawberry ones,” the time lord said.
“Is that your philosophy in life?” Stark said.
“It’s rather a simple philosophy, but I’ve found it’s never steered me wrong over the past three millennia.”
“Good philosophy,” Kat mumbled as she bit into her donut.
“I’ve been thinking…” Ten said, nudging his coffee cup around a bit. “…that it may be a good idea to call for backup.”
There was silence for a moment before Eleven turned to him, eyes wide. “No.”
“We have a good team here. One Aquapolian, two reincarnated immortals, and two time lords, but…it’s not going to be enough. I think we need to send for assistance.”
“All Twelve will do is drag us back to Aquapolis. You know he most likely thinks we’re meddling in affairs we have no reason to be in,” Eleven protested. “No, I think we should find more Aquapolians.”
“There’s Mike, Harvey, and Pepper,” Kat pointed out. “I mean, we already have them on speed dial if something happens.”
“So that makes four Aquapolians,” Ten said, shaking his head. The time lord looked weary, dark circles under both of his eyes. Kat guessed that he had been in his early thirties when Aquapolis collapsed all of those years ago. Now he looked like he had started to age once again. She grew worried. Eleven had mentioned once that, after a period of time, he and Ten would start aging if they didn’t return to Aquapolis and stay there for a bit.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell ringing. Everyone froze, poised for any sort of threat that lay behind the door. “JARVIS, who is that?” Stark asked, raising his voice a bit.
“It is a Dr. Simmons here to speak to you, sir.”
Stark frowned, confused. “Do you now know who that is?” Grayson asked, sliding out of his seat. Kat could tell he was itching to run upstairs and retrieve the sword he kept stashed underneath their bed. It was an odd choice for a weapon, but he had become quite proficient in its use over the past few months. Even Ten and Eleven were impressed by his swordsmanship, and they had been around to see the great warriors of Old Aquapolis do battle.
“No…Never heard of a Dr. Simmons before…” Stark said, placing his coffee cup down on the counter. Kat could see that he was wearing the metal cuffs that he had been working on for a while now. His new project was a completely portable suit, all packed into the small cuffs he wore on his hands.
The suit would be entirely unfeasible if he weren’t an Aquapolian. Stark had worked with his own powers, trying to find exactly what element he could completely control. About a month beforehand, he had discovered, to his delight, that he could control metal. He really was, down to the core, Iron Man.
Stark walked carefully over to the door, glancing out the side windows before he opened it. Kat walked forward a bit before either Grayson or the time lords could hold her back. She wanted to know who this Dr. Simmons was.
It turned out that Dr. Simmons was a young woman only a few years older than Kat. She had long, straight dirty blonde hair and a slightly panicked expression on her face. Kat tried not to let her guard down. This could be a SHIELD agent in disguise. She could tell right off the bat, however, that Simmons was not a demon.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr. Stark,” Simmons said. She had a British accent and talked fast and nervously. “My name is Dr. Jemma Simmons.”
“Can I help you, Dr. Simmons?” Stark said, taking a few steps back to stand beside Kat.
“I work in the Killian labs in Atlanta…and I think he may be planning something terrible.”
7th November 2013, 12:48 AM
A few minutes later, the entire team was gathered around in the living room. “Okay, let’s start from the beginning. Why do you think Killian is planning something terrible?” Stark asked.
“You’ve been sponsoring the lab for the past few years, Mr. Stark. Are you aware of our project?” Simmons asked.
“What?” Grayson asked.
“It’s a serum that’s supposed to allow the human body to heal itself.”
“There’s no way that could go wrong at all,” Ten said pointedly.
“Well, it has,” Simmons said.
“In what way?” Stark asked.
She took a deep breath. “Killian is hoping to weaponize it, to create soldiers…I’m not sure what for. He’s already created a small army of people…”
“Humans?” Ten asked.
There were confused glances all around. “Why Aquapolians?” Kat asked.
“He claims that Aquapolians deserve their chance to be immortal, that since we’re surrounded by realms of immortals, we need to stand up if we have a chance of standing by ourselves.”
“This is the realm of mortals,” Elevens said firmly. “And it must stay that way.”
“That’s why I came here.”
“Why here? How did you know…” Stark asked.
“I’m working with the project leader. He’s an old friend of your fathers. Dr. William Baron.”
“Yeah, I know. He and my father worked on The Aquapolis Project together.”
Now even the timelords looked confused. “The Aquapolis Project?” Eleven echoed, shooting Grayson a questioning look. He shrugged back, and Kat knew he felt utterly lost in this conversation, as if he were completely in the dark. She felt a bit bad as she glanced back at him. Discouragement was written across his features. Kat moved closer to him, trying to be reassuring. Instinctively, he wrapped an arm around her.
“About over twenty-five years ago, a group of scientists came together to create SHIELD, including my father, Dr. Eric Selvig, and Dr. William Baron. Their purpose was to create an organization that would protect the Aquapolian people, and the Aquapolis Project was a huge part of it.” All attention was on Stark. Kat couldn’t believe he hadn’t mentioned it before…or that Coulson hadn’t brought it up to her in the past. They had lost touch over the past year since she had been reunited with her father. She was sure Coulson was just trying to duck out of her life so that she could grow closer to Stark, but she missed her Uncle Phil…
“The project would be to ask Aquapolians for a sample of their blood to be run through the machine the team built to decode Aquapolian DNA, far before the Human Genome Project got underway. They were running off of Dr. Erskine’s research on a serum that would bring out the powers in a person with Aquapolian blood.”
“The Captain America Project,” Kat chimed in. Coulson was a huge fan of Captain America, and, growing up, she had heard countless tales of Steve Rogers’ missions and heroic endeavors. Little had she known that she was actually related to him, his grand-niece on her mother’s side.
Stark nodded. “Exactly. It worked with Steve Rogers, and the team was hoping that, with some time, they could figure out individuals’ powers and help them train to control them. It would all be voluntary of course. The only protection measures they would give out after consent was given so that people wouldn’t feel like they were under surveillance the whole time…” Stark trailed off. All of this sounded so good to Kat’s ears. Where was the Aquapolis Project now?
“And then everything went terribly, terribly wrong,” Eleven muttered. Stark turned to him, ready to ask how the timelord knew this, but Eleven continued on. “I don’t know the exact details…but I can guess. Howard Stark established a council to look over the day-to-day operations of the organization, correct?” Stark nodded. “This council must have started gaining and gaining more executive power…from what I’ve read, your father’s ‘accident’ happened in the latter part of 1991, a few months after the Chosen One was born. Whoever was on the council had to make their move then…”
“Are you saying that there were traitors already established on the council twenty years ago?” Grayson asked, sitting up a bit. Kat couldn’t believe her ears. Whoever had done this had murdered her grandfather and…
“They didn’t just start with my grandfather…they also started eliminating Aquapolians…especially the ones closest to me.” Kat shot her father a meaningful glance. He looked away. Stark had known…he had guessed that this was why her mother was murdered. He had hinted at this for a while now, but now…Before, she had known how hard it had been for Stark the past twenty years, but now she knew the reality of the situation.
All in one sweep, he had lost his father and his wife to the very same people who had pretended to offer protection to all Aquapolians. And then he had been forced to give his infant daughter over into their custody, entrusting her to the one agent he knew wouldn’t turn against them because he was Aquapolian himself.
“But there was another portion of SHIELD while the council was ordering the Aquapolian Initiative,” Kat said, filling in the blanks as she went along. “A part of SHIELD that was still loyal to the Aquapolis Project but had the full confidence of the council…because it was being led by an agent who was known for his complete sense of loyalty and duty. And now the entire organization is being torn in two…”
“So, now, how do Stane, Hammer, and Killian fit into this?” Ten asked, jumping up and rubbing his hands together, as if this were a fun puzzle to solve. He and Eleven had suddenly transformed into wide-eyed five-year-olds, eager to play this game.
“Hold on a moment…” Stark said, holding up his hands as he turned to Kat. “Kat, would you kindly mind getting your second-cousin on the phone and telling her to get over here? Don’t tell her exactly why, just tell her Grayson’s stuck at home and needs to go over some documents with her.”
“Right!” Kat jumped up from the couch. If Killian was up to something, Pepper might be in trouble. She suddenly felt a rush of worry for her cousin. They had to get her to safety before Killian found out that they were suspicious of him. Who knew what he would do? Now Kat was questioning the entire validity of their relationship. Perhaps it had been entirely one sided? She knew Pepper loved Killian fiercely. But what if it had been pretend on his end? She could tell that Stark had already started thinking this.
Killian was going to get his *** beat by the entire family if they even suspected that he had manipulated Pepper’s feelings for him. It would be hard to tell who would get to him first: Stark or Kat. Her bets were on herself, but in either case, he was in for a world of hurt.
She knew that the timelords had suspended their investigations while she was gone, so she tried to make it quick, dashing out to the balcony that overlooked the ocean as she dialed Pepper’s number in her cell phone.
“Oh, hi, Kat. Have you seen the news recently?” Her stomach dropped at the worried tone in Pepper’s voice. Her cousin didn’t even know the half of it…
“Yeah, it’s pretty bad. Uncle Phil is having his team work on locating the source. We’ll find out soon.”
“You and your father aren’t seriously thinking about finding this guy, are you?” Her tone sounded just like what Kat was sure her mother had sounded like years ago when getting onto her father for some crazy thing he was attempting to do.
“Well, if we are, we’ve got two timelords and a reincarnated Asgardian as back-up.”
“Kat, I don’t think Grayson is back-up.”
“No, maybe he should be on the front lines. Did you see the way he handled the Mach II?”
“With a boatload of panic followed by a surprising number of skill after he discovered he wasn’t going to die or crash the suit into anything?”
“What, you don’t think that’s exactly how Dad’s first time in the suit was? He fell out of the sky and nearly had a heart attack.”
“God, I wish I had been there to see that.”
“Anyway, Grayson has some files at the house that he needs to go over with you.”
“Yeah, I noticed he wasn’t at the office today.”
“His back is acting up again.”
“Okay, I’ll be over in about half an hour.”
Kat felt terrible that she was lying to Pepper, but it really was the only way to get her out there without tipping off Killian or causing her to panic. She rejoined the group, noticing that Ten and Eleven were about to burst. “Pepper’s on her way. Go ahead, guys,” she said, returning to her seat beside Grayson, who slipped an arm around her again.
“Our theory is kind of simple, really. Stane and Hammer were both hired to try and get rid of Stark in incidents that seemed like accidents or just random psychopathic murders. They were just in it for the money, really. Both of them had the same trait of greed coursing through their veins…” Eleven paused. “Killian, however, is a different matter…” He turned to Simmons, who had been quiet this entire time. “Tell us again what his goals are.”
Now that she had an entire audience all focused on her, Simmons looked completely nervous. Kat knew that feel and felt a bit sorry for her as she spoke, “He wants to make Aquapolians more like immortals. Extremis will allow them to regrow and repair body parts at will. We don’t know exactly why he wants this, but…” She shrugged. “It’s already worked so well in the trials so far. The serum works, and I think he’s looking to distribute it soon.”
Everyone was speechless for a moment. Finally, Kat said, “This doesn’t add up. If the SHIELD council is backing Stane and Hammer up in an effort to destroy Aquapolians…what is Killian doing?”
“Maybe he’s not related to them at all and is striking out against them,” Ten suggested. “Not that we approve of his methods, I mean, it’s a horrible idea. Then again the road to hell…”
“No matter what he’s doing, no matter who is backing him up, it’s wrong. We’ve got to stop him. We can go ahead and assume the SHIELD council is behind these ads on TV. Things will get even more heated if he tries to start an all-out war with souped-up Aquapolians,” Stark said. “So we stop him and see if we can turn whatever he’s doing around to erase the element of immortality and stop the SHIELD council at the same time.”
“Yeah, but really, no pressure,” Grayson said. Ten chuckled a bit.
“It’s doable,” Stark said firmly, turning to his soon-to-be son-in-law. “Killian’s been taking my money for years to fund this project, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit by and allow him to start a war that could end up wiping the rest of our people off of the face of the Earth.”
For the longest time, there was silence. Kat could tell that Stark was waiting for Grayson to say something, anything. Waiting for him to either put up a fight or agree or what. Kat turned a bit so that she could see his face. There was something ancient and powerful in his eyes, and, for a second, she swore that had gone from turquoise to emerald for a few moments.
“You’re right. Killian must be stopped.” Grayson’s voice seemed deeper, more powerful. Kat wondered if bits and pieces of his Asgardian self were showing through. She watched as Eleven and Ten exchanged glances. They had seen it, too.
Then Eleven smiled.
This was a good sign.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang out. “Mr. Stark, Mrs. Killian is here.”
“Yeah, we’re going to have to change her name in the database real soon, JARVIS,” Stark muttered before raising his voice. “Okay, let her in!”
Kat could hear the click of Pepper’s heels on the marble floor as she walked in. She had expected her cousin to be in business attire, but, in reality, she was wearing heeled boots with black pants and a white blouse, a lot less dressy than how she usually dressed. “Wow…what’s going on?” She frowned. “Is this about the news?”
“We’re on lockdown,” Stark explained, motioning to the group around him.
“I can see that. Do you think you could have told me first before I came here with absolutely none of my stuff?” Though it was Kat who had called her, Pepper shot an angry glance at her father. He was often blamed for many things in the group…and rightly so, since he was often behind most of the mischief.
“That’s the thing…we didn’t want to tip anyone off that we’re on lockdown,” Stark said. Kat could feel the tension in the room, everyone waiting for him to explain what was going on. He sighed. “Do you guys mind if we just have a family conference for a bit?”
Ten and Eleven shrugged and waited for Simmons to rise to her feet, a bit confused as to where she was supposed to go, but deciding to follow after the two timelords. Grayson was about to leave as well, but Stark stopped him on the way out. “Family conference,” he repeated.
The meaning of the words were not lost on Grayson, but he tried to dispute anyway. “I’m not…” He shook his head. “Not yet…”
“Yes, you are,” Stark said, clapping him on the shoulder as they joined Kat and Pepper on the other side of the room. Pepper was smiling at the exchange of words between Stark and Grayson. Kat had to admit it was heart-warming, but she wasn’t at peace enough at the moment to enjoy it.
“So, what’s going on?” Pepper asked, glancing around at the group. It was finally dawning on her that they knew something she didn’t.
“Your husband is raising an army of Aquapolians to go to war with the Aquapolian Initiative of SHIELD,” Stark said bluntly. Kat sighed. That was her father. He didn’t beat around the bush at all.
“What?” Pepper asked. The expression on her face said that she didn’t believe one word Stark was saying.
“You know the project in Atlanta he’s been working on for the past few years?” Stark asked. “Extremis.”
“Yes, I know of the project, but I’m not really exact on the specifics. It’s not really my area. I do know it’s a regenerative system he’s trying to create.”
“Well, he’s using the serum that he’s developed to create and army of souped-up Aquapolians.”
“How do you know this for sure?” Pepper asked, sitting down on the couch next to Kat.
“One of his scientists is here claiming it.”
“And you’re going to jump to conclusions based on one scientist’s word.”
“Pepper, he has hidden his research from us for years. What little information I get is what he pretends is all that he’s accomplished.”
“Tony, just because you’ve never really cared for him…”
“It’s not about that! It’s the fact that we’re on the edge of a war that could possibly finish the job that the Demon King started three millennia ago!”
“Then why argue against the serum?” She asked, jumping to her feet. “If it can protect Aquapolians…”
“It’s making them targets…and it’s making them immortal,” Grayson said calmly.
This struck Pepper speechless for a few moments. “What are you going to do?” She finally asked, her voice practically a murmur.
“It won’t take that long to simply pop on over to Atlanta and check out his facility,” Stark said. “Just drop in and see what he’s up to.”
“And if he really is building this army of Aquapolians?”
“Then we stop him,” Kat said simply. “We have a small team, but at the very least we could sabotage his research. We start off by stopping him from creating more soldiers. And then we stop his army. We re-direct it if needed…”
“That still doesn’t solve the problem of possibly hundreds of immortals walking around in Midgard,” Grayson said, his voice deep and low again. Stark turned to him, frowning. So Kat hadn’t imagined it. Her father was starting to see the change in eye color and voice as well.
“You okay?” Stark asked his son-in-law.
“What?” In a few seconds flat, Grayson was back to his normal self, as if he and his immortal side were changing places within his body at random times.
Stark studied him for a long few moments until he shrugged. “Nothing.” Grayson frowned as Stark continued. “Maybe the timelords know how to make people mortal again…I mean, after all, they stopped their own aging for three thousand years. Maybe they can start the aging process again in others.”
Kat could tell Pepper was just now starting to realize exactly what they were saying about Killian. Her hands were shaking, and her blue eyes were filled with worry. Kat put a hand on her cousin’s shoulder, which helped a bit, but not much. “Tony, what are we going to do about Aldrich?”
“It depends on how much he’s willing to cooperate with us,” Stark said simply.
“What if he’s not?” Pepper murmured. “What if he refuses? You have to promise me that you won’t jump to conclusions and kill him if he doesn’t cooperate,” she snapped, her voice rising as hysteria set in.
There was a long silence. Before Stark even spoke, Kat knew what her father was going to say. Grayson looked on helplessly. He knew Stark was going to be right. Killian was dangerous, and they could possibly save thousands of lives by taking him down. Kat let herself imagine for a few moments, however, if she and Grayson were in this situation. If Grayson had done something similar to what Killian was doing. If Grayson were mortal and could be killed. She shuddered a bit, immediately empathizing with Pepper.
“If it goes too far…” Stark sighed. “I can’t make that promise.”
Pepper’s face fell, and she looked as if she were going to start screaming at Stark. But, at the last moment, she bowed her head, gathering herself, calming herself.
Finally, she looked back up. “If this is all true…then I want that son of a ***** behind bars at the very least.”
Outside on the balcony that wrapped around Stark’s house, Simmons nervously shuffled back and forth, listening in as Ten and Eleven talked over ideas and strategies that made no sense to her. Baron had told her of the existence of timelords, but she had had no idea that they had ventured off of Aquapolis or that she would ever be able to meet them.
First of all, she had expected them to be more like wise old men, but both of them seemed to be in their early thirties, quite young. They had questionable fashion choices. One of them was wearing a long overcoat over a suit and sneakers, the other one looked like a professor in a tweed jacket and bowtie. Then again, Simmons concluded, they weren’t exactly normal people…
Her mind snapped back to their conversation. The one with the bowtie had spoken her name. Who was that, Eleven? “Sorry, sorry, kind of trailed away with my thoughts there…”
“We were just wondering if anyone knew that you were on your way over here…” Ten muttered a bit darkly. He seemed to be on high alert, like a dog that had just heard the sound of a whistle in the distance.
“Other than Dr. Baron, no…And he wouldn’t tell anyone else, in fact…he’s the one who sent me out here.”
Just as Ten screamed this, Eleven reached across and grabbed Simmons, dragging her into the house, a high-pitched whistle sounding in her ears.
Kat’s head snapped around as soon as she heard the whistling, jumping to her feet. She had been the first to hear it, and the first to hear Ten’s scream from the balcony outside. “We have to…!”
The world spun past as she was thrown off of her feet, crashing into the glass display case that stood in the middle of the main staircase. For a few seconds, she was deaf, then the sound of twisting and screeching metal filled her ears. She pushed herself to her feet, ignoring the pain shooting through her as shards of glass cut into her palm.
The floor started to lurch sideways, and she looked up just in time to see Ten running past, a tight grip on Pepper’s arm. He was heading for the front door. In the distance, she could just hear Stark yelling something, and she turned around, gasping in horror.
Whatever had caused the blast had destroyed such a huge portion of the house overlooking the ocean that the rest of the house was now slipping down into it. As the floor tilted upwards, she started sliding towards the edge. Kat tried to get a grip on something that was stuck onto the floor, but her hands were so injured by the glass, she couldn’t.
Suddenly, someone grabbed her wrists and pulled her back up onto the portion of the house that wasn’t at the moment collapsing into the sea. For a few seconds, the world spun again until she realized that whoever it was was currently running with her in their arms. She held up her hands, trying to prevent them from knocking into anything so as not to drive the glass shards in deeper.
Glancing up, she could see that Grayson’s eyes were changing colors again. They were now bright emerald, it seemed with fear. Fear that they wouldn’t be able to get out…
Kat glanced over his shoulder as there was another metallic screech. The destroyed portion of the house tilted over into the sea, splashing down with a tremendous sound as it sank into the ocean’s depths. Luckily, Grayson had cleared the front door, and they were standing safely outside. He came to a stop, breathing heavily and staring at her hands. “Kat…” He murmured.
“I’m okay, I’m fine. I’ll live,” she said, trying to reassure him with a smile. But it hurt so damn much, that her smile faltered. She glanced around for the others, Grayson insisting on holding her…clutching her was more like it. As if, if he let go, she would cease being safe.
The first person she looked for was Stark.
And he was the only person missing.
“Where…where’s Dad?” She asked, her voice trembling a bit. She looked around frantically. “Dad?!”
Ten stepped forward, looking helplessly across at the ruins of the house. “He had the portable suit on him…” He muttered hopefully.
Before Grayson could stop her, Kat swung down out of his arms and started racing for the house again. “Wait, Kat, stop! It might not be stable!” She heard Grayson shout after her, but she pressed on, stepping around live wires and over glass until she was at the edge of the house, looking down into the water. Grayson had forgotten the most obvious thing about her. She could fly.
Stepping off of the edge, she flew slowly down to the water’s surface, searching for Stark before she descended into the depths. Luckily, it was the middle of the day, so it was easy to see…
Easy to see he wasn’t there. He might have sunken lower…lower than she could go…
Against Ten’s protest, Grayson followed after Kat until he was standing at the edge of the destroyed home. She must have gone underwater, he thought. There was nowhere else she could have gone.
The water below erupted upward, and soon Kat was standing by him again, water streaming down her face and shoulders from her wet hair. She still held her hands out in front of her. She had been in pain beforehand, but now the wounds in her hand seared like fire from the sea salt that had found its way inside.
“He’s not down there!” She sobbed. “Where could he be?!” She started to panic. Yes, he had had the portable suit on him when the entire house exploded…but it was a prototype. Was it fully flight capable yet?
“Kat…” Grayson put his hands on her shoulders, pulling her closer. “Kat, your hands, darling…”
How could he be thinking about her hands?! What if Stark was dead?! Had he sunken to the bottom of the ocean and drowned?! What if…
Kat turned back to Grayson again. His emerald eyes were deep with worry. She started to tear up as he put an arm around her and guided her back through the ruins of the house.
Soon, it was growing dark, and there were still no signs of Stark anywhere. After making sure the glass shards were out of Kat’s hands, Grayson swung by his apartment to grab some clothes that she had left there. The group moved to the empty offices at Stark Industries, where everyone had gone home for the day. They gathered in Grayson’s office, sitting on couches and chairs.
After a while, however, it was apparent to Grayson that it would be better to take Kat back to his apartment, where she could rest in silence. She had grown quiet over the past few hours, silently worrying over her father’s safety. Once they returned to his apartment, she stood in the middle of his living room, completely dazed.
Grayson hated seeing her like this and was starting to get worried sick over Stark himself. Stepping forward, he wrapped his arms around her, allowing her to bury her face into his shoulder.
“What if he’s dead?” She whispered, sobbing a bit.
“It’s going to take more than a house collapsing on him to kill Tony Stark.”
9th December 2013, 5:46 AM
The night sky danced around in circles in front of Stark’s eyes. He groaned, trying to turn over. The suit was making that difficult. It was starting to shut down, and there was no telling if he alone had enough strength to push it over.
“Hey, JARVIS, would you mind opening the suit for me?”
“As you wish, sir.”
The night air was a bit brisk, but not as bad as it could have been. Stark sat up, still halfway in the suit, and looked around him. All he could see were trees and hear the sounds of animals all around him. “Must be upstate…” He muttered, trying to force himself to his feet. He winced. The collapse of the house had taken a toll on him. Bruises covered his arms, and he was sure that he was lucky not to have broken anything in the process.
“JARVIS, I need you to call Kat’s cell phone.”
“I don’t believe I can do that, sir.”
“What?” Oh, great. The suit was losing power. He banged on it a bit. Stupid prototype. He was lucky just to have gotten airborne in the thing.
“I’m afraid I need to shut down for now, sir.”
“Well, before you do, at least tell me where we are.”
“In Tennessee, about one hour north of the Georgia border, sir.”
“What the hell are we doing here?”
But there was no answer. With a click, the suit shut off. Great. Stark pushed himself to his feet, assessing the damage. Okay, just some bruises, nothing broken. Now just to figure out where he was. He didn’t have a phone on him. And he couldn’t leave the suit behind.
It took him a few moments to find a rope, and, soon, he was dragging the suit unceremoniously across the ground. It took him twenty minutes to find a gas station with a pay phone. There was no one inside, but at least the pay phone was outside. He dialed a code that let him bypass paying since he didn’t have any change on him.
“Hello, you’ve reached Kat Stark. Please leave a message after the tone, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
He swore right as the tone sounded out. “Uh, hey, Kat, it’s me. Listen, sweetheart, I don’t know when you’re going to get this, but as of eight o’clock eastern standard time, I’m alive. I’m going after Killian. If you want to help, please send the timelords. Don’t come yourself. I don’t want you getting hurt. And, if I don’t see you…if something happens to me before we’re able to meet again, I just wanted to let you know that I love you.”
He ended the message on that note, sudden fury at Killian and just basically everything making him slam the phone back into the receiver. The truth was, now he saw only one option: he had to go down to Atlanta and destroy the Extremis project.
And that was a suicide mission.
Less than a year. After nearly twenty-two years of searching and waiting on information and sleeping through nightmares of his wife’s death, he had ended up with only less than a year together with Kat. It had been a wonderful year. But he wanted more.
And what was worse, he thought, as he leaned up against the glass of the phone booth.
He was going to miss her wedding.
A ringing noise woke Grayson up. It took him a few moments to realize that it was his phone and not Kat’s. He had finally gotten her to sleep, after hours of her worrying and having several outbursts of tears. He reached across to his nightstand and picked up his phone, sliding out of bed quietly and into the living room so as not to wake her. “Hello?”
“Grayson, we’re meeting at your office in one hour.” It was Ten.
Grayson shot a look back at the bedroom. “Are you sure? Kat just got to sleep and…”
“She won’t be at the meeting.”
“Ten…she’s our leader.”
“We need to discuss our next step rationally, and there’s no way we can do so with her there.”
Grayson had the sudden urge to fling his phone across the room. “And you think I wouldn’t act the same? She has possibly lost her father, and I have lost a mentor and a friend.” He snapped, his voice getting deeper. The changes in his voice had started happening off and on over the past few months. Whenever he got angry, his voice grew deeper and his eyes flashed emerald.
He had one theory on this: his immortal side was coming out. He wondered if his powers would start returning to him in full. He hadn’t told Kat about it at all, but he had started gaining the ability to teleport and levitate objects and change an object’s appearance at will. He wondered when the day would come when he ceased being Grayson and became Loki once again.
“I know, but…you and I both know how much she is like Stark. Switch Kat and Stark in this situation, and you know exactly what she would do.”
Ten had a point. As soon as the shock wore off, Kat would be raring to go, trying to find answers for Stark’s disappearance. Grayson sighed, glancing back at his bedroom once again. “Okay, I’ll be there in a few minutes. Just let me make sure she’ll be okay by herself.”
He walked back into the bedroom, gazing at her sleeping form for some time before sitting gently down beside her. Her blonde bangs were all over her face, so he brushed them away out of her eyes tenderly, leaning forward to whisper in her ear, “I love you.” He leaned back, brushing a kiss up against her cheek.
Before he walked out, he grabbed his jacket and the dagger he had started keeping in his nightstand drawer. Grayson had become quite proficient in its use over the months. Wielding it seemed like second nature to him. He didn’t know why he had grabbed it.
He didn’t have a good feeling about any of this.
Stark had tried making the suit collapse back into the cuffs, but, for some reason, it refused to do so, no matter how much he tried to force it with his own powers. He finally stopped, unwilling to damage the suit before he could find a power source. Reluctantly, he had to drag it behind him as he searched for a place to take shelter.
The small town he found himself in reminded him of Kat’s stories of growing up in rural Georgia. Coulson had bought a sort of summer home there years ago to rest and recuperate for missions at. After being tasked with the job of watching over Kat, he had decided to move there permanently and take a sort of part-time desk job at SHIELD. From what Kat said, it had sounded nice, just the two of them in a quiet country home.
Stark finally happened across what he guessed to be an abandoned garage. He forced the door open and dropped the suit smack on the floor. Once inside, he discovered that it wasn’t abandoned. He picked the suit up, dragging it over to an old couch, and sitting it down there. He sighed. “What now?”
Kat groaned and rolled over to the side, stretching out to wrap an arm around Grayson. She paused, half-asleep, when she couldn’t feel him, then forced open her eyes. He was gone. She slowly sat up and rubbed at her eyes, reaching for her phone. There was one missed voicemail. She pressed it, thinking that it was Grayson, then nearly dropped the phone with a shriek when she heard her father’s voice come through the speaker. After listening to the message, wide-eyed, she started dialing the line that Stark had given her to access JARVIS’ remote server in New York. “Yes, Miss Stark, how may I help you?”
“You wouldn’t happen to know where Dad is, would you?”
“The last time Mr. Stark’s suit checked in was an hour ago in a town a few miles north of the Tennessee/Georgia border.”
“What is he doing there?”
“I’m not quite sure, Miss Stark, but you know him better than I do.”
“Thank you, JARVIS.” She hung up, writing up a quick note for Grayson when he got back. Throwing on some clothes and a jacket, she headed for the balcony.
“We need to take Killian’s laboratory in Atlanta down as soon as possible,” Ten said. He, Eleven, Grayson, and Pepper were gathered in Grayson’s office at the main offices of Stark Industries.
“With just the five of us?” Pepper asked.
“Why don’t we call in Barton as well?” Eleven suggested.
“We might end up tipping off all of SHIELD if we do that,” Ten said, turning to Grayson. “We’ll head off to Atlanta in the morning.”
“I need to call Kat,” Grayson said, ducking out of the meeting and dialing her phone number, frowning when he got the voicemail. He dialed JARVIS’ server.
“How may I help you, Mr. Strauss?”
“Can you please tell me where Kat is?”
“The best I can tell, sir, it’s over Texas by now.”
Grayson swore, shutting his phone off. “I should have known,” he muttered to himself, hurrying through the offices for the front door. On the way, he passed by Simmons, who was sitting in the lobby. Then, he got an idea. “Dr. Simmons.”
She looked up. “Yes?”
“I need you to take me to Killian’s laboratory.”
Stark found a power source, but he doubted that it was going to be strong enough. Just as he got it plugged in, the garage door swung open to reveal a kid no older than twelve with sandy blonde hair. They stared at each other for a few moments before he waved. “Hi.”
“How’s it going?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Trying to recharge my transport.”
The kid looked around the room until he spotted the suit sitting on the couch. “THAT’S your transport?”
“Yeah…it’s pretty mobile transport, but…”
“What happened to it?”
“Yeah, apparently that’s what happened to you, too.”
“I’m not arguing with you, kid. Forty-eight years old with a daughter who can fly and who I was estranged from for twenty-two years, two friends who are certifiably insane, and a soon-to-be son-in-law who was a lawyer all the way up until I made him CEO of my company a few months ago.”
The kid paused. “I meant that everyone thinks you’re dead.” He waved a newspaper.
“Can I see that?” Stark asked, a bit worried. He held out his hand. The kid hesitated. “Don’t worry, kid, I’m not going to hurt you.” The kid stepped forward and handed him the newspaper. He scanned the front story. “Tony Stark feared dead.” He read aloud. “Not the first time that headline has been run.” He looked up. “What’s your name?”
“Harley, do you think you can find me a better power source somewhere in here?”
Grayson followed Simmons’ directions out of Malibu to the airport. “Perhaps we should have taken Ten and Eleven with us?” Simmons asked.
“No, I want to do some investigating of my own. If Killian shows up, it will look suspicious bringing two timelords around.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! First Kat, now Grayson!” Ten sighed, rubbing his eyes in frustration. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“Technically, your body is just thirty-two years old,” Eleven pointed out.
“Add another three thousand years, and that’s how long I’ve had to deal with life…and then a few months with the Starks’ escapades.”
Pepper nodded in agreement. “Grayson’s fitting right in.”
“Okay, so we have Kat flying to Tennessee to find Stark and Grayson flying to Atlanta with Simmons to most likely snoop around Killian’s laboratories. That leaves our gameplan,” Eleven said.
“Which is?” Pepper asked.
“Two of us head to Tennessee. The other to Atlanta,” Ten said.
“No,” Pepper responded firmly. “I want to go to Atlanta, and I’m going to need backup.”
“I’ll go with you, then. Eleven, you’re on Stark Duty.”
“Ah, yes, easiest job in the world,” the timelord replied sarcastically.
Stark left Harley watching over the suit’s reboot and charging as he walked a few blocks to the nearest bar. He tried calling Kat’s cell phone this time, but he got her voicemail again. He sighed, hanging up the pay phone and ducking inside to get a drink. He had borrowed a hat from Harley’s garage and a jacket since he had failed to bring one along on his cross-country flight. Sitting down at the bar, he ordered a drink. Suddenly, someone snatched the hat off of his head. He turned around, pissed off. “Hey, listen buddy…”
This was the most angry he had ever seen Kat. Her eyes were sparking dangerous blue lightning as she pulled him off of the stool and through the bar. Everyone grew silent as they watched the young woman practically drag her father out of the building and into the alleyway. Once there, she slammed him against the brick wall. “What do you think you’re doing?” She snapped.
“Trying to get a drink…”
“Are you insane?!”
“Yes, I believe I am.” He immediately regretted making that comment. Her motions were much too fast for him to follow, and, before he knew it, she had slammed her fist into the side of his face with such impact he fell to his knees. It took him a few moments to recover enough to shout, “Ow! What the hell was that for?” He slowly rose back to his feet, rubbing the side of his face.
“First of all, I thought you were dead!” Tears were forming in her eyes. “Second of all, you were going to face Killian yourself?!”
“I have to take him down.”
“Not by yourself!”
“It’s my job to make sure he doesn’t spread Extremis.”
“And it’s my job to make sure he doesn’t start a war between humans and Aquapolians! This is not your decision to make!”
“Like hell it is,” he muttered darkly.
“What?” She asked, staring at him.
“I made the decision to leave you out of this for your own safety. I made the decision as your father.”
“Which you won’t be for very much longer if you go on this suicide mission,” she snapped, the tears finally overflowing. Stark looked away. He couldn’t stand to watch his daughter cry, and he knew if he did, his resolution would falter.
He had worked so hard to set everything up so as to ensure that Kat had a peaceful and comfortable life after he was gone, maneuvering Grayson into position as CEO of the company, encouraging Kat’s relationship with his former lawyer, fine-tuning his suits…Stark knew he wasn’t going to last naturally more than a decade or so longer. It was rough being the parent of someone who was going to live for millennia after you’re gone.
That’s why it was so serendipitous that Loki had ended up getting himself reincarnated as Grayson. From what Stark knew, he and Kat had a history together. After both of them returned to their immortal lives, they were certain to stay by each others’ side. And it didn’t hurt that Loki was pretty deadly.
But that’s not what Kat wanted. True, she wanted Grayson, and Stark was already pretty beat up about possibly missing the wedding. Kat wanted her father as well. Eleven had mentioned to him once that he was the only family, immortal or mortal, that she had ever known. She’d be missing him for millennia.
Why not then…why not face Killian together? He had never fought by her side before, but he knew how powerful she was…Why not face this threat side-by-side?
Because he didn’t want her getting hurt.
Those few moments in Monaco during which Kat’s life was in danger were painful, terrifying. He couldn’t go through that again.
Kat had been gripping the front of his jacket tightly in her anger. He felt her fingers loosen as she started to sob. No, no. Please stop.
“Why do you do this?” She asked, trying desperately to speak without her voice cracking. “First with the arc reactor poisoning you…now this. Do you want to die? Is that it? It would have thought you wanted more time…”
Ouch, that hurt. Yes, but… “I want to protect you.”
“Well, you’re doing a poor job of it,” she laughed bitterly, her tears finally winning over her anger. She tried to turn away from him, but he wouldn’t let her. As he reached forward and pulled her close, he suddenly wished that he had been around to hold her as she cried over trivial things like falling off of a bicycle.
She wrapped her arms around him, sobbing into his shoulder for a few moments as he thought over their gameplan. Killian’s laboratory was just south of here. Stark could find a car, try to recollapse the suit, and head to Atlanta with Kat.
They made their way for the garage after she was able to talk without sobbing. Harley was inside, checking the power levels for the suit. He looked up as they walked in. “It’s still at like 50%.”
“Are you forcing little kids to do your work now?” Kat asked Stark in mock horror as he stepped around to look at the suit.
“Who’s that?” Harley asked Stark.
“My daughter,” he muttered, looking over the wrist cuffs to see if he could get them to collapse.
“She’s too pretty to be your daughter.” Harley replied. Kat burst out laughing, and Stark rolled his eyes.
“Well, back off kid, because she’s got a fiancé.”
She waved to Harley. “I’m Kat.”
Grayson pulled the car up in front of Killian’s laboratories, both he and Simmons getting out. “Stay here. I’ll go get access,” she said, leaving him beside the car. He stood out in the muggy Georgia heat, watching as she punched in a pass code.
“This is an idiotic plan you have here.”
The voice was deep, but so much like his own. Grayson turned towards the figure standing beside him. He was the same height with long black hair. He wore black and green leather all the way down to his boots. His face mirrored that of Grayson’s, but his was clean-shaven compared to the small amount of facial hair Grayson always kept.
And his eyes were the deepest shade of emerald Grayson had ever seen.
“What are you doing here?”
“Surely you felt my presence returning these past few months,” Loki said, his eyes on the building in front of him.
“How long do I have?”
“How long do I have until you take over completely?”
Loki smiled. “We’re the same person, remember?”
“Why are you here?”
“Call it a little…self-preservation. I’m here to lend a hand.”
“We can stay separate like this?”
“Yes. A nice little party trick I finally mastered over the past few months.”
Grayson studied him. Below Loki’s self-confident smile and dangerous gaze, Grayson could still see himself.
“You know this is a trap, right?” Loki asked.
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“And yet you’re walking right into it.”
“That’s the plan. I’ll find out much more that way.”
Loki smiled. “Then what are we waiting for?”
There was a crash outside. Stark looked up. “That didn’t sound good.”
“I’ll go check…” Kat said, standing up and leaving the garage. A few moments later, there was another, larger crash. Stark shot to his feet, worried.
“Stay here, kid. This is about to get messy.”
Outside, Kat was scrambling to her feet as her attacker launched another swing at her. Fire exploded through the air, nearly hitting Kat straight on. She spun around. “Get back inside!” She screamed.
Stark ducked back in, running to the suit. “COME On, DAMNIT,” he said, hitting it. It was still only at 60% power.
Then he got an idea.
Outside, Kat slammed her foot into the side of her attacker’s face, but he still kept on going. She wondered if this was one of the Aquapolians who had been administered Extremis.
At her father’s command, she hit the ground, the sound of something large flying through the air filling her ears. For a few seconds, the world seemed to stand still, then a mighty crash, twisting and tearing of metal, rang through her ears. In that instant, her entire existence was just sparks of flame and metal as another crash sounded all around her.
Then someone grabbed her, lifting her to her feet, carrying her away from the blast. She could still hear the screech of metal, but it was dying away quickly.
Finally, she dared to open her eyes. She was standing on firm ground once again with someone’s arm wrapped around her shoulders. The sight in front of her was nearly surreal. Five large cars had all been flung into a pile together, as if they had suddenly been magnetically attracted to one another. They were mashed together, metal doors hanging by hinges and fenders twisted almost beyond recognition.
Whoever was beside her was silent with awe for a few moments, then she heard her father’s voice say, “Wow, I really didn’t think that was going to work.”
Simmons couldn’t see Loki at all. Before getting within earshot of the scientist, the immortal had informed his mortal self that they had about a half an hour before he could become completely solid again. That meant Grayson had to stall for half an hour before his backup materialized out of thin air.
Loki was silent the entire time Simmons and Grayson crept through Killian’s laboratories, every once in a while making an offhand comment that Grayson wasn’t supposed to respond to or answer. Grayson decided to ignore Loki until he could place them in a somewhat advantageous position.
They came upon an elevator which a security keypad sitting next to it. Simmons punched a code word into it, the doors flying open with a soft click. She pressed the button for the basement. “We’re going to be cornered down here,” Loki muttered as the doors slid shut again. The elevator was so small, he and Grayson were almost practically standing on top of each other. Grayson guessed it wasn’t that bad as far as physics went since they were technically the same person.
He shot Loki a look, and the immortal shrugged. “Just saying. The basement is perhaps the worse place this lab could be. Not that you could have survived a jump out of that fourth story window,” he said with a smile. Grayson was soon learning his immortal self sometimes had a dark sense of humor. Luckily, it seemed so familiar to him, he had to stop himself from laughing at Loki’s comment.
Simmons led them to a laboratory. It was empty except for a scientist who looked to be in his sixties. He was working at a computer when Simmons stepped in with Grayson right behind her. The scientist looked up, shooting Simmons a sad look. “Jemma…” He murmured as the doors swung shut behind them with a click. “What have you done?”
Grayson shot Simmons a confused look as Loki said, “I told you.”
“I had to. We need to finish the serum, and we’re short an Asgardian sample.”
“Did Killian send you to pick him up?”
Simmons bowed her head and murmured, “Yes.”
“Jemma…” The scientist stood up, stepping over to Grayson. “I’m sorry about this. She should have never brought you here.”
Grayson took a step back as Loki took a step forward. For a split second, the Asgardian had forgotten he wasn’t completely material yet. “What’s going on here?” Grayson asked in a steady voice.
Loki looked as if he wanted to stab the old scientist, glaring at the man with those dangerous emerald eyes of his. He was invisible to the scientist, however, and the old man was not aware of the immortal right in front of him. “My name is Dr. William Baron. I’m one of the head scientists on the Extremis Project, and, unfortunately, we need your blood to stabilize the serum.”
Grayson frowned. “Why? And why are you working with Killian after…”
“After establishing the Aquapolis Project?” Baron smiled. “Who said I’m working for him?” He sighed, turning to Jemma. “Our people can be saved without going to war. It’s time I told you who we’re really up against.”
The doors slid open again. They all turned to see Killian striding into the room, a grin planted firmly on his face. “Good job, Simmons.” The doors slid shut behind him and locked themselves. “I’m sorry to drag you out here, Grayson, but you’re an integral step of the process. Did Dr. Baron tell you why we need your blood?”
Grayson shot Baron a look. “No.” Glancing over, he could see that Loki had retrieved his dagger from his belt.
“You see, the serum needs blood from all four realms. We have angel blood from Kat’s old medical records. We have plenty of Midgardian blood…And…we have demon blood.” He gestured to himself.
That’s when horrible realization struck Grayson. He glanced over to where Loki stood. No wonder the Asgardian looked as if he wanted to murder Killian. Furthermore, he knew why Loki was so agitated. They both knew that Kat was most likely heading for Killian’s laboratories at that very moment.
And she would be walking right into the demon’s trap as well.
19th January 2014, 7:13 PM
“Are you sure it’s safe to leave him by himself?” Kat asked, casting a concerned glance back at Harley’s garage. She followed after Stark to the car he had been driving around in, sliding into the passenger’s seat as he sat down behind the steering wheel.
“Yeah, he’s good. I think Killian’s men are mostly after us,” Stark said, starting the car and driving onto the main road. “We need to get in touch with the others,” he said as they started to head south. “We need back-up.”
Kat sighed. “Got a cell phone on you?”
“I left it back in Grayson’s apartment so the others wouldn’t track me down and stop me from finding you.”
Stark sighed and handed her his phone. She dialed Grayson, frowning when he didn’t pick up, then dialed Ten. “Well, look who it is!” He exclaimed when he picked up. “Miss “I’m going to go on the mission by myself”!”
She sighed. “Listen, Ten, we’re heading for Killian’s lab right now. We’ll be there within a few hours.”
“I’m heading there, too. Eleven is heading for wherever you are…You might spot him along the highway, I think he mostly hitchhiked his way there.”
“Where is Grayson?”
“Oh, he decided to head to Killian’s lab by himself a few hours ago.”
“I’ll be in Atlanta within a few hours. Keep a look out for Eleven,” Ten said, hanging up.
“Grayson’s at Killian’s lab,” Kat muttered grimly after hanging up.
“By himself?” Stark frowned. “What does he think he’s doing?”
“I don’t know, but…We need to get there…fast.”
Loki could only watch as Killian stepped closer to Grayson, a threatening look on his face. “Now, I am going to kindly ask you once to take part in our little experiment by giving us some of your blood. If you don’t comply, I’m going to have to ensure that you’re cooperative.”
“Which means?” Grayson asked, raising one eyebrow in a defiant gesture. Loki smirked.
Killian smiled, then lunged forward. He was faster than Grayson had expected, bashing him upside the head before he even had a chance to react.
“Keep an eye on the side of the road. We might be able to pick up a timelord hitchhiker,” Stark said to Kat as he raced along the highway south to Atlanta. “Meanwhile, do you happen to know the building Killian’s lab is in?”
“Yeah, it’s on my campus, near the research institute, but I’ve never actually been inside it,” she said, keeping one eye on the road for Eleven. It was dark outside, so it was proving to be a difficult task finding him.
“That makes it harder to navigate, then,” Stark said, frowning. “Are there any other labs in that building?”
“Yeah, several more. They’ll be deserted this time of night, though.”
“We better check to make sure once we get there.”
“What are you planning on doing? Burning the place to the ground?”
“Among other things.”
“Dad! You can’t destroy that building, other peoples’ work…”
“If we don’t stop Killian, the least of their worries would be their destroyed work.”
She frowned. “Okay, so your plan is to torch whatever Extremis serum there is in the building.”
“Exactly. And maybe trap Killian in there with it.”
She sighed. “Maybe we should try to focus on just stopping him.”
“What if he ends up hurting or killing Grayson?”
She glared at him. “Are you deliberately trying to get me to aim at killing Killian?”
“No, I’m trying to make you understand why I need to kill him.”
She paused for a moment, then shouted, “Eleven!”
Stark slammed on the brakes. Sure enough, the timelord, as Ten had predicted, was standing on the side of the road, waving at them. “How the hell did he get out here? Hitchhike the entire way?” Stark asked, a completely bewildered look on his face as Eleven walked around the car to the driver’s side, a huge smile on his face. Stark begrudgingly lowered his window so the timelord could speak to them before getting into the car. Kat had to laugh. Eleven was something else, and, at times, his personality clashed so much with her father’s it yielded hilarious results.
“Ah, yes, the Starks! I knew the two of you would have rushed right into danger! I sensed someone with the Extremis aura pattern not too far from here and was trying to get to the small town we were finally able to trace Mark 42’s signal to when I got kicked out of my transportation!”
“Let me guess…” Stark said, leaning his arm on the side of the car. “They kicked you out because you wouldn’t shut up.”
“Dad!” Kat protested, though she had to stifle another laugh.
Eleven didn’t seem put down at all. “Well, I WAS trying to describe the theories behind the balance between immortals and mortals in the universe, but I don’t think that truck driver was very interested in it…and it probably went over his head…” The timelord paused, caught up in his own thoughts for a moment.
“Get in the car,” Stark said, getting a bit annoyed with how long it was taking to pick their fellow teammate up.
“What?” Eleven asked, still not fully in the current situation.
“Get in the damn car so we can make it to Atlanta before Killian does something to Grayson!” Stark snapped. Eleven jumped, a bit startled by the yelling, and hurriedly climbed into the backseat, his smile fading as he realized exactly what kind of trouble was ahead.
As Stark raced down the road towards Atlanta, Eleven told them what he had been researching. “Before I left California, I was able to sort of break into Killian’s database and look at Project Extremis closer. To instill a sort of immortal state into Aquapolians, the scientists had to create a serum with blood from all four realms. Now, entries for three of the realms have already been entered. Somehow, he was able to get his hands on a sample of your blood, Kat. He has Aquapolian samples most likely from the scientists in the lab…”
“Where did he get the demon or Asgardian samples from, then?” Stark asked.
“There were demon samples in the database, though I don’t know where they came from. So we’re looking at his being connected to demons…and quite possibly the same people as Stane and Hammer…”
“Great, just great…”
Realization dawned on Kat. “Asgardian blood,” she breathed. “There’s only one person they could get that from…If they can take angelic blood from me while I’m a mortal…”
“Well…it would be diluted with demon blood as well, but it would do the trick,” Eleven pointed out, lost in his own world again as Kat slowly started to panic.
“They won’t run the risk of releasing him after getting his blood,” she reasoned as Stark started to press down on the gas, the car speeding over the limit. “They’re going to kill him.”
“Really. I told you coming in here was a trap. And you let him knock you out anyway.”
Loki’s voice was the first sound Grayson heard when he came to, strapped into an operating chair in the corner of Baron’s lab. Simmons was standing nearby, a vial of blood in her hands. So they had already taken his blood. He probably didn’t have much time left.
Thankfully, Killian was nowhere in sight. Simmons crossed the room to where Baron was standing, his back turned to Grayson. Baron was up to something, he reasoned, and from how the old scientist acted, whatever he was plotting would benefit Grayson’s escape.
But he didn’t have time to sit and wait for Baron’s plan to start. He turned to Loki, glaring at his other half. “You just stood there and let him knock me out,” he growled underneath his breath. He assumed neither Baron nor Simmons could see the Asgardian at the moment. He would rather keep Loki’s presence a secret for as long as possible.
The Asgardian shrugged. “I’m not fully solid yet. I couldn’t do anything, just watch.” His gaze shifted to the two scientists. “And learn. Baron is definitely on our side. I believe he’s going to free you soon. Once he does, he’ll lead us out of here.”
“And Simmons?” Grayson frowned. Simmons had done everything Killian had asked of her by luring him here. However, she seemed to be scared of the demon, under duress, not quite sure what to do.
“She’s scared of Killian, but her loyalties lie with Baron.”
“When are you going to be fully solid?”
Loki shrugged. “Within the next hour or so.”
“Within the next hour or so?!”
“Ssh. They may think you’re talking to yourself,” Loki nodded over to the two scientists.
Grayson stared at him. “I AM talking to myself.”
Loki smirked. “Well, no one has ever called us sane.”
Grayson was about to snap something else at him, but, before he could, Baron turned around and walked across the lab towards them. “You’ve got about ten minutes before Killian gets back,” he said, untying the straps on the operating chair. Simmons was hanging onto the vial of Grayson’s blood, as if she didn’t dare let it go. Baron signed. “Jemma, you know what to do with that,” he said as Grayson got to his feet.
She clutched the vial tighter in her fist. “He’ll kill us,” she protested. “Like the other scientists who resisted…” Simmons looked as if she were about to burst into tears.
“If we complete this serum, the universe as we know it will fall out of balance,” Baron said simply, as if this weren’t a grand statement, but simply just something to be avoided. “We must destroy the only sample we have…Now quickly!”
Simmons still didn’t look convinced. Grayson glanced over at Loki. The Asgardian was starting to get annoyed. “Just take it from her and destroy it yourself,” he growled to his other half. Grayson hesitated, knowing that, if he stepped forward and tried to take the vial away from her, Simmons could very likely panic and feel as if she were attacked.
Luckily, she made up her mind before Grayson had to take drastic action. The vial fell to the concrete floor with a crash, blood spilling everywhere. Simmons no longer looked afraid, but determined. “We need to go,” she said, her voice shaky. “Killian will be back soon.”
“Whatever you do, make sure you follow Baron, not her,” Loki muttered to Grayson as the four of them slipped out of the laboratory and into the dark hallways of the research institute.
Stark, Kat, and Eleven made it to Atlanta only a few hours later. Stark pulled the car up to Killian’s research building and parked it. “Do you have access to this building?” He asked Kat.
She shook her head. “No, I don’t. We’re going to have to find another way to get in.”
There was a knock on Stark’s window, and he jumped, turning to see the other timelord standing there. “Jesus, Ten! You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
Ten thought about this for a moment. “Could I really with the arc reactor in your chest?”
Stark rolled his eyes and opened his door, causing Ten to have to back up a few steps. “Okay, let’s find a way to get in here…”
“Why don’t we just break through the front door?” Ten asked, gesturing to the glass-faced entrance of the building.
“That will just alert Killian and whatever security he has in there,” Kat pointed out, walking over to the card scanner. “My Buzzcard can’t get us in, but maybe you can figure out a way to,” she said to Stark.
He studied it for a moment, then shrugged. “Too rudimentary.”
He stepped back, frowning at the card scanner. “The technology is too basic. I’d have to pretty much blast through the wall to get the damn thing to open the door for us.”
Ten laughed. “You would have thought having a lower quality of security would have been to our advantage.”
Stark, remembering his first encounter with Ten, turned to the timelord. “Of course, you can do that thing where you shatter the class just by snapping your fingers.”
“Yes, and alert pretty much everyone in the general vicinity,” Ten argued back.
Kat was starting to get anxious. Grayson was in that building and possibly in danger. They shouldn’t be arguing about whether or not they should break in through the glass entrance. “Just do it!” She snapped at Ten. He looked a bit taken aback by her anger, then realized where the root of it lay. He turned to the glass entrance and snapped his fingers, shattering the glass completely.
“Where do you keep the serum?” Grayson asked as Baron led them through the maze of passageways.
“There’s a storage room on the other side of this floor with the finished product. Are you thinking of destroying it?” Baron asked.
“We can’t let Killian distribute it.”
“You’d have to walk past Killian’s office to do it.”
“I don’t care. Just show me the way.”
Jemma’s scream made both of them turn around. Baron’s eyes widened. Grayson realized Loki must have finally become solid. The Asgardian put his hands up. “I’m not here to hurt anyone…well, any of you,” he said with a smirk.
“How…” Baron asked, peering at Loki, more curious than frightened.
“We’ll save the explanations for later. Now, show him the way to the storage room,” Loki said to Baron before turning to Jemma. “And you show me the way out of here. I’m assuming we have back-up coming soon. I don’t want them running into Killian or any demons he might have for security here.”
“You think Kat is on her way?” Baron asked.
“How do you know…” Grayson started.
“I created the Aquapolis Project with her grandfather and Dr. Eric Selvig. I remember the day she was born. Never met her, not after what happened to her mother. But I’ve heard about her.” He paused. “And we don’t want her falling into Killian’s hands.”
“It would have really helped if you knew this building,” Stark complained as he and Kat tried to make their way through the first floor of Killian’s research facility.
She rolled her eyes. “The labs I worked in when I was still in school were next door.”
“Okay, we find Grayson, we destroy the serum, we kill Killian, and we get out of here.”
“Wait,” Kat said, throwing up her hand to make Stark stop. She listened for a few moments in silence. “Someone’s coming,” she hissed. Stark raised his hands, ready for whatever came around the corner.
Simmons was the first one around the corner, stopping dead in her tracks when she saw them. Stark started to advance towards her, but Kat held him back. Simmons looked scared.
Suddenly, someone else came around the corner. Kat froze, not able to breath.
It was Grayson, but at the same time, it wasn’t Grayson.
This man had her fiancé’s face with those high cheekbones and smiling eyes, but in all other ways, he was different. He was clean-shaven where Grayson had a bit of auburn facial hair. His hair was long and black where Grayson’s was short and red. And his eyes…while Grayson’s were turquoise, this man’s were the brightest emerald she had ever seen.
She was drawn into those eyes, as if something were physically pulling her to this stranger. But, no…not a stranger…he was someone she had once lost, someone she had not seen in millennia…
Someone she had loved fiercely.
“Loki,” she whispered in amazement.
“Demons, demons everywhere,” Ten spat as he and Eleven made their way through the basement passageways of the building, keeping their eyes out for any labs where the serum was being made or stocked. Grayson could be in one of those labs. They had to hurry. Both timelords could feel the auras of many demons all around them.
“What if…Killian isn’t an Aquapolian?” Eleven hypothesized as they rounded a corner. Ten peered into the window of two swinging doors. It was a completely empty lab, unused for quite a while. He continued on, silently listening to Eleven’s theory. His fellow timelord had spent most of his existence in the library on Aquapolis, reading and studying all sorts of subjects from Enochian to the history of Hell. Ten was more of the warrior type, having spent his existence training his powers.
So when Eleven started to form theories and ask questions, Ten damn well listened.
“What if…Killian is a demon?”
Loki smiled, taking a step forward. Stark stepped closer to Kat, not realizing who he was. Loki stopped, putting up his hands to show he was unarmed. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” He smiled self-confidently, his eyes meeting Kat’s. “It’s good to see you again, darling.”
Stark turned slightly to his daughter, confusion flooding his eyes. “Do you know him?” He asked, his voice low. He still stood in a defensive stance, not quite so sure this stranger wouldn’t actually hurt either of them.
“Yes…it’s Loki,” she whispered back, not taking her eyes off of the Asgardian. “It’s fine. He won’t hurt us,” she said, placing a hand on her father’s arm to assure him they were safe. Stark relaxed a little, though he glared at bit at Simmons, still not trusting her after hearing that she had lured Grayson into a trap.
“Where is Grayson?” Kat asked, trying desperately to focus on the task at hand despite Loki’s sudden and unexplained presence. He seemed to be looking at her with an odd expression on his face. Was that…affection? Relief? She wasn’t quite sure.
“Dr. Baron has taken him to the storage room where the serum for transport is kept,” Simmons spoke up. “We came this way in case you arrived here and couldn’t find your way around. It can be a maze down here.”
“Are all of these labs on this floor Killian’s?” Stark asked, getting right down to business. Kat knew exactly what he was up to. She didn’t stop him. With Loki there and Grayson possibly still in danger, she had other things to worry about.
Simmons nodded. “The top floors belong to other researchers.” She paused. “If you’re thinking of destroying the building…I can take you up to the upper floors to evacuate whoever might be working up there.”
Stark hesitated for a moment, as if he were still having a bit of trouble trusting the young scientist, but finally made up his mind that, if she tried to betray him again, he was able to defend himself. “Okay.” He turned to Kat, glancing at Loki a bit hesitantly for a second. “Are you going to find Grayson?” She nodded.
“I’ll take you to him,” Loki said, stepping forward. He knew Stark didn’t completely trust him at the moment, so he was careful not to step any closer.
“He won’t hurt me, Dad,” Kat said softly. “Remember who he is.”
That seemed to clear everything up. In fact, once Stark remembered exactly what relationship the two of them had once had, he felt better about leaving her with the Asgardian. She would actually be safest with him. He turned to Simmons. “Let’s clear everyone out. Then we burn this place to the ground.” He turned back to Kat, placing a hand on her shoulder and giving her one last look before he left. She knew he was still hesitant, but there were things to be done.
After her father and Simmons turned the corner, she turned back to Loki, unsure of how to treat him. He and Grayson were the same person, right? But then…their personalities seemed different. Loki carried himself differently. What was she supposed to thing? “How did the two of you separate when you’re the same person?”
“My reincarnation wasn’t…perfect…” Loki said, stepping closer. Kat had the sudden urge to take a step back, but, at the same time, something pulled her towards him. Some small part of her was overjoyed to see him again.
“How did you get reincarnated in the first place?” She murmured, caught up in those emerald eyes of his. Grayson started to slip from her mind completely.
“After you were exiled from Asgard and the Bifrost was destroyed, I searched for a way to get to Midgard. Finally, a few decades ago, I was able to find the bridge between Asgard and Hell. A backdoor that would also take me through Hell to Midgard. But…” He paused, tilting his head to the side and smiling sadly. “It wasn’t the safest of ways.”
“You ended up getting yourself killed,” she whispered, tears suddenly springing to her eyes. She suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of him dying for her sake, going through such pain just to reach her.
He nodded. “It was an angel who reincarnated me. I was never meant to go through that process, which is why, despite his being an archangel, Grayson and I have started to fall apart these past few months.”
“An archangel?” She breathed
“Yes. Castiel was his name, I believe.” He smiled. “He did it out of more selfish reasons, I guess. He is, historically, your brother.”
“I thought I didn’t have any angelic family.”
“Only your brother,” Loki explained, stepping closer. They were now standing only a few inches apart. He reached up and brushed some of her hair back from her face, placing his hand gently on her cheek. He was much more gentle than she had expected.
And suddenly, he was leaning forward and kissing her. She practically melted into his arms for a few wonderful moments. Wrapping her arms around him, she returned the kiss, happiness that they were together again surging through her.
He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer into an embrace as they kissed. His touch was warm and gentle, but also desperate, as if he wanted to pull her close and never let her go. They stayed this way for a good few moments until they pulled apart, both slightly out of breath. He leaned forward again, planting a small kiss on her cheek. “I’ve been waiting three thousand years to do that,” he whispered with a smile as he pulled away again.
She smiled back, feeling the urge to wrap her arms around him again and not let go.
Then, she remembered.
She took a few steps back, ducking her head. “We need to find Grayson,” she muttered, completely horrified at what she had just done.
“Of course…” He said. She raised her head a bit. His smile was understanding, but he looked sad all the same. She couldn’t bear to look him in the eye at the moment. They made their way back down the passageways towards the storage room.
Grayson and Baron were a few yards away from the storage room when they spotted a guard out in front of it. They both came to a halt and ducked around a corner. “I’ll take care of him. You stay here and make your way into the room on my signal,” Baron said. Before Grayson could protest, the older scientist stepped out from around the corner and walked slowly and confidently towards the guard, a friendly smile on his face. “I just need to get some test samples,” he explained to the guard, retrieving his ID to ensure that he was truly the project leader and holding it out for the guard to see. Not taking any chances, the man leaned forward to inspect Baron’s ID, receiving a punch in the face for his troubles. He cried out in pain and fell to his knees, another punch from Baron knocking him out cold. Grayson came out from his place behind the corner as Baron started waving toward him, a shocked expression on the young man’s face. The scientist shrugged as he walked up to the room. “I learned very quickly when the Aquapolis Project got started that I would need to train my powers and keep them sharp.” They stepped into the room, where boxes of serum lined the walls almost all the way up to the ceiling.
Eleven and Ten ran into Stark and Simmons on their way up to the upper floors to check to see if anyone was occupying the building. “Killian is a demon!” Ten exclaimed.
“What?” Stark asked, stopping in his tracks.
“I know!” Simmons said as she raced on.
30th March 2014, 7:06 PM
The several researchers that Stark ran into while he cleared out the upper floors looked pissed and with good reason.
“You’re telling us just to abandon all of our work?! Why not wait for the fire department to get here…” One especially angry scientist argued, motioning at the equipment that lined his lab space. “Do you understand how much money this cost the institute?!”
“Listen, I can’t replace your research, but I CAN replace the machines. Send a bill for the costs to the institute, and I’ll pay it all,” Stark snapped. He was desperate to clear the building out before they could send the all-clear signal down to Grayson and Baron in the basement. Ten was heading down there to give the signal while Stark, Simmons, and Eleven cleared out the building.
The scientist didn’t look entirely happy, but he was a bit less angry than before. Every single researcher Stark had run into had recognized him. Some had even tried getting autographs from him, even though that had much more engineering experience and years on them than he did. He had to push the flattery aside for now, however. Best to get these guys out alive.
As best as they could tell when the three of them finally corralled the scientists out into the parking lot, there had only been about fifteen people in the top floors all together. “What if they try calling the fire department?” Simmons asked Stark as Eleven distracted the group with a role call that was completely arbitrary and useless.
“I scrambled all their cell phones,” he said. “They won’t be able to contact anyone.” Well, scrambled wasn’t exactly the word for it. His powers allowed him to detect metal objects from a distance. Any cell phones he had detected immediately received damage to their metal parts that would make them impossible to use. “Okay, I’m going back in,” he said racing back towards the building. “Keep them stalled!”
Grayson picked up one of the boxes of serum, looking it over as they waited for a signal from the others that the entire building was cleared out. “How many doses have been made so far?” He asked Baron, who was busy pouring gasoline over as many boxes as he could. The scientist, apparently, had stored several cans of it in a storage room nearby without telling anyone. This was obviously not the first time he had thought of torching the place, Grayson realized.
“I would say a good thousand have been made with the slightly unstable version of the serum,” Baron replied. “Not enough for an army, but a thousand immortals running around can do a considerable amount of damage.”
“So they could.”
Grayson dropped the box and spun around to see a demon advancing across the room to them with a gun. Along with Baron, he threw his hands up, hoping that one of their team members would come to their rescue soon. “Step into the center of the room and put the canister down.” They did as he asked. The demon pulled a com out of the pocket on his vest, switching on the channels.
Before the demon could speak into the com, out of nowhere it seemed, Ten crashed into him, knocking him to the ground and rendering him unconscious. The timelord assessed the damage he had done, smiling. “It feels good to knock out a demon, but better to kill one. Oh, well, I’ve got his gun now,” he said, stooping to snatch it up and hold it ready in case the demon attacked them again. “We’re just waiting on the all-clear signal…”
Kat and Loki made their way through the winding passageways narrowly avoiding running into several demons. Suddenly, Loki stopped short and grabbed her arm, stopping her as well. “Do you smell that?”
She smelled the air. “Yeah. Gasoline.”
They turned to see Stark running toward him. “Grayson, Baron, and Ten are in the storage room where the serum is kept, ready to torch it. You two need to keep any of the demon security back before they do.”
“What about the researchers?” Kat asked.
“Everyone’s been cleared out. I just sent a message down to Ten. Wait ten minutes, keep everyone back, then get the hell out of here,” Stark replied before turning to run in the other direction.
“Where are you going?!” She yelled after him.
“The offices are down this way!” He shouted before turning a corner.
She made to run after him, but Loki caught her arm. “He can’t face Killian on his own,” she snapped.
“And I’m not letting you go after him.”
“Then YOU go after him. I’ll be fine here. Just let me call Eleven…I’ll be fine with him.”
“I’m. Not. Leaving. You,” Loki said slowly, his voice lowering almost to a growl.
“I’m. Not. Letting. Him. Die,” she snapped back, meeting his eyes, her own flashing with sapphire lightning.
“Okay, let’s light this up,” Ten announced after receiving the message from Stark. Baron nodded, pouring the last of the can he was holding over the boxes.
“Everyone out!” He shouted, backing out of the room as best he could. Ten and Grayson ran out, leaving him to light the place up. With a whoosh, the boxes disappeared into bright flames. They ran back towards the exit, Baron pouring another can of gasoline behind them. He would wait to light this trail after they were safely out.
Kat could smell the smoke coming from the storage room as she raced through the passageways, Loki on her heels. They burst into the office space, looking around for Stark, who suddenly appeared out of the largest office, waving what looked like a memory stick. “Killian’s not here, but I’ve got this!”
“Good! Now let’s get the hell out of here!” Loki shouted. Kat could hear the fire advancing down the corridor. They raced out and towards the stairs, flying up them until they came to the lobby, and, finally, the street.
The first person Kat saw was Grayson. “Grayson!” She shouted, running towards him. He turned around, smiling, as she threw her arms around him. He wrapped his arms around her, relieved that she was safe. He looked up, his eyes meeting Loki’s. The Asgardian looked away, focusing on what Stark was saying to the timelords.
“I heard the entire building went up in flames!” Pepper said suspiciously as the group returned to Grayson’s apartment, which was HQ for the moment now that Stark’s home was gone.
“It burned pretty nicely, too!” Baron said with a chuckle, obviously glad to be rid of that place once and for all. He stepped up to Pepper, shaking her hand. “Dr. William Baron. Founder of the Aquapolis Project, and former scientist offshoot of the Aquapolian Initiative.”
“Having you been playing both sides, Dr. Baron?” Pepper asked grimly as she shook his hand.
“I only have one loyalty. And that’s to my people, just as Howard Stark and Eric Selvig did.”
“Is Selvig still alive?” Ten asked.
“Yes, but he’s off researching something in London at the moment. Once SHIELD became too unfriendly for the Aquapolis Project, he found it better to leave its native soil.”
Pepper glanced over at Loki, a bit confused. “And you are…?”
“Oh, boy,” Stark said. “Here comes the confusion.”
“Let me explain!” Eleven said, literally jumping over the couch to stand by Loki, dragging Grayson with him. Before anyone could stop him, he started. “So, as you know, Grayson is the reincarnation of the Asgardian immortal Loki. However, his reincarnation was a bit…imperfect, which means, over the years, it started to break down. Well, finally, it’s broken down, and now we have both Grayson AND Loki, both of them are the same person, just in two forms at the moment…and I have no idea how this is going to work out once Grayson’s natural lifespan runs out…It’s all very confusing and shouldn’t have happened, but now we also have an Asgardian to help us fight Killian.”
“Oh, yeah, about Killian…” Stark said, holding up the memory stick. “I was able to clear out all of the files on his computer at the lab. And…” He added. “He’s a demon.”
“I married a DEMON?” Pepper asked.
“Well, if it makes you feel better, your cousin is engaged to a half-demon,” Ten pointed out, gaining eye rolls from both Grayson and Loki. “Wow, please don’t do that, that’s a bit creepy.”
“We need a game plan. Killian’s still out there,” Kat announced.
“First we need to find out what he’s up to besides trying to make Aquapolians immortal,” Stark said, glancing over to Baron.
“I’m only the science side. I know nothing more beyond the serum experiment,” Baron said as Simmons shook her head.
“Well, this will tell us what we want to know,” Stark said, plugging the memory stick into his tabletop display. Thousands of different files appeared. “Well, Killian’s been busy.”
“What’s that?” Grayson asked, pointing to a folder with AIM on it.
“That’s the serum experiment,” Baron said, leaning closer. “Wait. What’s that?” He pointed to a file with an odd symbol on it. Ten, Eleven, and Loki all seemed to draw sharp breaths at the same time.
“If it’s freaking out the ancients, it must be something bad,” Kat mused.
“It’s a devil’s trap,” Eleven muttered as he stepped closer to look. “But usually those are used by demon hunters to trap demons. Why would a demon be using that symbol?”
“To taunt us all,” Loki muttered grimly. “Killian is the second in command of Hell itself, and he’s always been arrogant.”
“Even after millennia, he’s still an arrogant son of a *****,” Stark laughed a bit, opening the file. Data streamed along until they could find the beginning of it.
“Wait, there’s a map!” Kat shouted, pointing to a very strange world map. There were dots outlined all around it. As soon as Stark zoomed out, however, it changed into a very strange image.
“It’s an universe map!” Eleven gasped with delight. “I haven’t seen one of these in ages! It’s a detailed map of all four regions!”
“There aren’t any dots anywhere else except Midgard and Hell,” Kat said grimly, pointing to identical dots in hell that matched up with the ones in Midgard.
“It looks like portals…bridges between the two, but…” Ten frowned. “They should all have been sealed up millennia ago…”
“That’s his plan,” Stark said. “To reopen them again.”
“But how?” Baron asked.
“Or maybe they’ve already reopened…or they open at a specific time and he’s going to keep them open?” Kat hypothesized.
“Whatever the case…why is there a dot out in the middle of the Pacific?” Stark asked.
“That’s Aquapolis,” Kat murmured.
Ten and Eleven nodded ascent. “And it’s the strongest dot there is…going by the intensity of it,” Eleven pointed out. “That’s where the portals are strongest….”
“It’s the same portal the armies of Hell came through to destroy Aquapolis millennia ago,” Ten muttered grimly.
“Is there any way to seal it up?” Grayson asked.
“Perhaps the twelve of us timelords could do that…but we may need some added help…” Ten muttered.
“And we know how we can get there,” Stark said. “All we have to do is take a short trip across the water.”
They all spent that night on air mattresses and blankets in Grayson’s apartment. Kat and Grayson fell asleep beside each other. On the other side of the room, Loki had a hard time telling himself to not be so jealous. He remembered all of those days when he and Grayson had shared the same consciousness. He had spent all of those days with Kat himself. After all, he and Grayson were the same person.
The next day, they packet up all of the weapons and supplies they could and headed out to the remains of Stark’s house. “Okay, now, how are we going to do this if only two of us can fly?”
“Oh, we don’t need to fly over there,” Eleven said. “Now, we haven’t transported a large group of people this way, before, but…” He pulled a small can of spray paint out of his pocket. “Everyone stand together in a clump, I’ve got to draw a circle around you.”
One or two of them gave Ten an are you serious look, and he shrugged. “Just do as he says. He knows what he’s doing.”
Eleven drew a circle and several ruins around it, forming what looked like a clock before jumping back inside the circle. “Now, off we go!”
There was a blinding white light. Kat screwed her eyes shut for only a few moments before it dissipated again, leaving them on the rocky cliffs of Aquapolis.
“Now, it’s only a few hours’ walk to the city in the center…let’s hurry, though, really, it won’t be smooth sailing even when we get there,” Eleven said.
“Why not?” Loki asked.
“Because…” Eleven shot a nervous look at Ten. “We REALLY weren’t supposed to leave in the first place. Twelve’s going to be furious.”
Ten shook his head. “We’ll be bringing back the Chosen One. He’ll be distracted for a while.”
They made their way across rolling hills and through rocky canyons, stopping every once in a while to admire the landscape. For all but the timelords, this land was very new and very beautiful. Most of them walked along in silence.
Finally, they could see the spires of the ancient city of Aquapolis in the distance. Eleven and Ten, despite their nervousness over Twelve’s reception of the team, looked excited, the former spinning around in circles as he was apt to do. “No one besides the timelords and the Chosen One has stepped foot in the city for three thousand years,” Ten explained to Kat. “So Eleven is excited to be part of history.”
She laughed. “Seems like it.” His exuberance was catching. Even Loki was smiling good-naturedly, caught up in the landscape around him. After all, he had never been to Aquapolis himself, only read about it in books.
They came to a halt before one of the massive main gates. Eleven and Ten led them through first, with Kat and Stark close behind. “Half of the city was torn down by the invaders,” Eleven explained.
“You mean…this city was twice this size?” Baron asked, appalled. The city they were walking through seemed easily to be the size of New York. Kat couldn’t imagine it being so much bigger.
“One day, it will be rebuilt,” Ten muttered, half to himself.
They made their way through winding terraces and passageways and bridges. The entire city was made of white and black marble, glass, and other materials that looked both ancient and modern. “What was the city powered by?” Simmons asked, point to what looked like grooves for energy along the walls of the buildings.
“Arc reactor technology,” Stark answered himself.
“The first arc reactor was built by the ancient Starks over four thousand years ago,” Eleven explained. “Howard Stark must have discovered the blueprints in his analysis of the Tesseract decades ago.”
“So they had electricity…” Grayson muttered, astonished. “As early as four thousand years ago.”
“Only Aquapolis, mind you,” Ten said. “The rest of the world…well, all of the human civilizations were just then forming.”
They came to a large circular temple. Inside, it was bright with white marble, laced through with blue gems and those lines that used to carry energy. A single timelord was on watch. Tall and a bit burly, he had close shorn brown hair and a harsh edge to him. His eyes widened when he saw Ten and Eleven. “Well, there you are,” he said in a British accent. “Twelve’s been wondering where you’ve gone off to.”
“How much trouble are we in, Nine?” Ten asked.
Nine was too busy staring at Kat for a few moments before he could answer. “Well, since you’ve brought Quamachi with you…Not that much…He’s in the Hall of Origin now…”
“Okay…” Eleven turned back to the group. “I need Kat, Stark, Grayson, and Loki to come with us to the Hall of Origin. The rest of you stay here with Nine.”
“I want to see it,” Baron said defiantly. “The center of the universe…Just a glimpse of what I worked so hard to protect.”
Eleven sighed. “Okay, you come on. Pepper and Simmons, you stay here. Don’t leave Nine’s sight!”
“Don’t worry. I’ll give them the tour of the place. Four’s supposed to come relieve me of watch soon anyway,” Nine said in a cheerful manner that greatly contrasted his harsh look.
The rest of the group followed Eleven back out into the city and into the grand palace. A winding journey through passageways and corridors finally led them to a large library.
“The legendary Library of Aquapolis,” Loki murmured. Kat turned around and had to muffle a laugh. Both Loki and Grayson had the same look of awe and wonder on their face.
“Well, if we had any doubts that they were ever the same person,” Baron said, chuckling. “We’ll have plenty of time to read later. These books have been here for three thousand years. I’m sure they’ll remain a few hours more.”
They followed Eleven and Ten to a large gateway. A shudder of energy passed through her body as Kat stepped through.
Suddenly, she was falling backwards, her mind was spinning out of control. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t hear a thing.
And then there were arms around her, strong hands helping her up.
Grayson’s face swam into view. She could hear someone else calling her name.
Loki. That was Loki’s voice.
It was the Asgardian who was helping her up, his arm wrapped around her waist as he pulled her to her feet.
“Aya,” he murmured again.
Her vision cleared. Loki still had his arm wrapped around her, and Grayson had taken her hand in a worried gesture. The look in his turquoise eyes surely mirrored that of the emerald orbs that were now looking down at her as the Asgardian waited with held breath to make sure she was okay.
She waved her hand to tell them that she was okay. “I just got a little dizzy.”
“It hasn’t been that long since you last stepped through that portal.”
The sage that appeared before her was wrapped in the same brown cloak that she and Stark had seen Eleven wearing when they first met him. As he pushed the cloak aside to cross his arms in front of his chest, she realized, quite surprisingly, that he wore armor underneath. This wasn’t the heavy battlefield kind, but the more everyday protection enameled suit that she imagined knights wore when they were not in battle.
What struck her the most was the color. White and gold streaked with curving lines and symbols wrought in Aquapolian crystal, the blue shades streaming between the colors of the spectrum just as her eyes did. After a few more moments of observation, she realized that they were clocks. And all of them were set to twelve, just like the clock-shaped Aquapolian pendant that he wore across his neck.
Twelve was a stern-looking man, with hard lines drawn into every corner of his face. She guessed he had been in his mid fifties at the Fall of Old Aquapolis and looked every inch the leader he was, from his pepper grey hair to the way he stood, much like a cross between a soldier and one who held much knowledge.
She realized that she had been holding her breath, such a site he was, as if he had stepped out of a storybook about her ancient home. She suddenly had the urge to tell Loki to stand side-by-side with him so that she could see the differences between Aquapolian and Asgardian dress and weaponry. In fact, Twelve had an awfully dangerous looking sword strapped to his belt, in an equally impressive looking scabbard.
Grayson looked awestruck by Twelve’s appearance, and even Stark looked impressed. Twelve regarded Kat, from her modern clothes and haircut to her posture and how dizzy she looked. For a moment, she felt small underneath his judgmental gaze. She expected him to say something condescending or cutting.
But, after observing her for a few moments, his glance turned curious and friendly as he smiled. “Quamachi, it’s good to see that you found your way back home.”
She smiled with relief, nodding with a bit of nervous vigor. “It’s good to be back…though not really under this circumstances,” she said, laughing a bit and shrugging.
He nodded in agreement, his gaze turning to Ten and Eleven and hardening. “The two of you were expressly forbidden from leaving the island,” he snapped. Even Ten withered a bit underneath Twelve’s harsh gaze. “Yet, I see that you did some good by doing so,” he admitted again, sighing. “It’s good to see that the Chosen One has brought her allies with her.” He glanced around, waiting for someone to introduce themselves.
“Tony Stark,” Stark said, walking forward and holding out his hand for Twelve to shake. Interestingly enough, the timelord knew that shaking hands was the common greeting of the modern age.
“It’s good to finally meet you. Word travels back to Aquapolis about your deeds, and, of course, we can see your home from here.” Everyone laughed at this, even Loki, who gave his own, small laugh along with the others. Kat enjoyed seeing him smile. It broke the tension that seemed to course through his body almost constantly.
“Well, not anymore,” Stark said, sighing. “I’m going to have to rebuild it soon.”
“What a shame…”
“It’s an honor to meet you,” Baron said, stepping up next. “Dr. William Baron. I’ve worked with the Aquapolis Project over the past three decades. I don’t know if you’ve…”
“We’ve gotten news back on that project as well,” Twelve nodded. “The attempt to re-build the Aquapolian nation and offer asylum to Aquapolians everywhere. A grand one, a needed one. It’s a shame it fell apart.”
“You’re looking at what’s left of it,” Baron said. “That’s what we’ve come here to do.”
Twelve nodded, looking from one face to another. “We can sense the gaps opening up between our realm and Hell. They have been widening, stretching for quite some time now…But we do not know how to close them.” He glanced thoughtfully from Kat to Stark and back again, regarding the daughter and father with an intrigued look on his face. “We will give you all shelter within the palace for as long as you wish. There is plenty of space here and many rooms. In the morning, after we are all rested, we shall speak again.”
There was also food, plenty of it and the best any of them had had in ages.
“What in the world is this spice?” Pepper asked Nine, tasting some sort of meat dish with what could have been twelve different spices in it. For a split second, Stark was about to ask exactly where the meat had come from, but decided against it. So far, they hadn’t see any animals or wildlife on the island, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a forest or farm nearby or on the other side of the city that the timelords had access to.
“Tamaran. It grows only on this island,” the timelord replied. “There are at least a hundred different types of fruits, vegetables, berries, you name it that only grow on Aquapolis.”
“So basically there’s a hundred different types of food that we haven’t tried yet,” Kat joked with a smile, making Stark laugh. The strangest thing about this island was that it felt like home. It had from the moment he had set foot on the cliff all those months ago. He had never seen the capitol city in his life, yet it felt so familiar…He guessed every Aquapolian felt like that returning to their homeland. It felt like a powerful magnet, urging him to come and stay.
“So the twelve of you have been here all by yourself for three thousand years?” Simmons asked, drawing Stark out of his thoughts and back to the conversation. He was eager to learn more about these timelords, as was Loki, apparently. He had said time after time that the timelords were believed to be extinct to everyone in the universe, mortal and immortal. How could this small band of mortals hid themselves from everyone else for all of this time?
“Well, we take trips off the island, occasionally,” One said. He seemed to be the oldest of the group, ten years Twelve’s senior with a shock of medium long white hair that reached almost to his shoulders. “We’ve watched civilizations rise and fall, plagues sweep across the earth, and several world wars, chronicling everything we could.”
“You have a record of Midgardian history from 1000 B.C. up until now?” Loki asked, impressed. Kat nearly burst out laughing. The expression on his and Grayson’s face nearly was identical.
Eleven nodded. “We’ve been working hard at it for millennia.”
After the team dispersed for the night, Twelve stepped up to Kat and Stark to speak to them. “We don’t know how to close the gaps,” he explained, “But we do know how to obtain that knowledge…through the Tesseract.”
“The Tesseract?” Stark asked, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s both an energy source and a computer. However, it remains locked to all who are not of Stark blood. I believe the two of you may be able to unlock it and figure out exactly how we can close the gaps.”
Kat and Stark glanced at each other, then back to Twelve. “Take us back to the Hall of Origin,” Kat requested.
“I cannot go in with you,” Twelve said as they neared the portal to the center of the universe. “Once you have unlocked the Tesseract, however, I may enter…” He nodded to each of them. “Good luck.”
They stepped through the portal, gazing up at the Tesseract as it floated overhead. “Okay,” Kat muttered. “How does this thing work?” She stepped closer to the middle of the room until she was directly underneath the Tesseract. Something clicked within the walls, a shifting sound rising as the Tesseract started to lower itself to the ground.
Stark stepped closer, examining the cube on all sides. “It’s an energy source…maybe it’s voice activated?”
“Or maybe touch activated,” Kat replied, reaching out towards the cube.
Stark grabbed her arm. “It’s an energy source,” he repeated. “There’s no telling how much damage it will do if it’s touched.”
She shrugged, reaching forward with her other hand. “I’m pretty sure it won’t hurt me.” She touched the surface lightly, and it grew brighter. Suddenly, it seemed to shrink into itself, growing smaller and smaller until it exploded outward, sending millions of tiny fragments of blue light flying through the air around it. They scattered for a brief few moments, filling the entire chamber with shining crystal shards before they came together to form images and words.
“He was right…” Stark breathed, turning around and watching in awe as the Tesseract interface started forming around them. “It’s a computer…”