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Phoenix-From Fire They Are Reborn

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Lyra sat in the uncomfortable seat in the back of a massive tan Humvee, looking up only when a bad bump made her scribble on the pages she was trying to write on. She would glance up and look out the large window in front of her, the driver wouldn’t bother looking back at her though, and no one seemed to even notice she had stopped working. She looked back at her papers, then pulled the next one up, more paperwork, courtesy of her new…liaison? Handler? Boss? She wasn’t sure what to call Coulson, since she wasn’t technically part of SHIELD, never had been trained by them, truthfully didn’t like most of the people that worked there. It was all bureaucratic nonsense, like anywhere else, and she had little patient for both that and authority. Despite this, she got along well enough with Coulson. Probably because he had never forced her to obey him. And he didn’t bring up her fight or flight instincts either: he was only a few inches taller than her, with slightly receding hairline, permanent half-smile on his face and gentle voice. In another life, or if she was 15 years older, she would totally have dated him. God, she needed to remember never to tell Clint that, she would never live it down.

The seat under her rolled again and she scowled as she flipped her pencil over and rubbed out the illegible marks before holding the papers closer to her body and blew the eraser chunks off the page. The Humvee rolled again, violently and tipped over with a loud grown and a blast of hot air, fire and shrapnel. Screams erupted from Lyra and all around her, gunshots followed. Bullets whizzed by her head and pinged on the thick metal of the Humvee’s undercarriage, and the metal doors as she forced one open to get out and get to better cover. The bullets were coming from the southeast, from a ridge of high rocks and shallow gullies, raining down on Lyra and the other soldiers. Lyra thought about the other SHIELD personnel, the soldiers that had been with the escort, even as bullets and explosions surrounded her and rained down hot fire and melted slag that burned her skin and forced her to run and scream, diving behind a small boulder.

Another explosion as the lead Humvee exploded, Lyra tried desperately to try and reach her emergency phone, but dammit, she had left it in the Humvee, and there was no way she could get to it now. Automatic fire came in waves whenever there was movement close to Lyra, or from one of the remaining Humvees, and when it became quiet, Lyra understood why. She was the last one alive of the entire caravan. There had been over 20 people, two fellow scientists, and five trained SHIELD agents. And she was the last one alive. She knew she was the reason that the caravan had been attacked, why she was now pinned behind a small boulder, barely able to hide her body from the suppressing gunfire, and why she held a gun to her body, waiting for someone to come find her.

Despite the noise, the sounds of fire crackling, distant gunfire, crunching gravel, an occasion moan or scream, and the gurgle of someone choking on their own blood, Lyra could hear and feel someone coming to her position, and could see their shadows cast by the sun. She ducked low as she could, making her body as small as possible, and hoped all that time spent with Clint hadn’t been for nothing. If she survived this and managed to get away, she was going to make him a new arrow that went boom in a spectacular fashion. No better than that, she was going to build him the best fucking weapon she could imagine, and she had a very extensive imagination.

The shadow cast coming to her changed, so she could tell where the man was, how he was now turning and looking into the empty Humvee where she had been. A beeping sound, then ringing, then a crunching sound. Dammit, the fucker had found her phone, her emergency phone, and by the sound, had crushed it. Well, fuck. She could hear more than one set of steps now, a few moving faster than the first, and knew it would only be a matter of time before they found her. Well, like fuck she would go down like this, huddled behind a small boulder like a scared child, she would shoot every fucker she could in her face, or dick, she liked the idea of both. So she’s a little bit sadistic, she has issues. In this situation, her rage is totally justified and she is readying herself for what will most likely be her last stand.

As more men near her position, an occasional shot rings out, and Lyra just knows that anyone that had survived as being executed. She thought of her fellow scientists; both had volunteered to come with her to the hidden laboratory, eager to learn about what she could teach, what she had to share with the world, but she didn’t share. And that was a problem now, as she stared down what had to be her final moments alive. She had never shared her exact formulas to the letter, had never given anyone the entire process to recreate the serums she had come up with. And when she died, it would all die with her.

Well, better die with her than in the hands of terrorists.

Gravel just behind her crunched and she pushed the gun to her head, angled it upwards and prayed that all those lessons with Clint hadn’t been for nothing. She pulled the trigger and the shot was loud in her ear, making it ring violently and she couldn’t hear anything, but she felt the spray of blood, and the weight of a body coming down onto the boulder behind her. She spun around on her spot, gun out in front of her again and looked around and fired three more times. Each bullet hit the mark, one terrorist going down, then the second and the third. Blood sprayed into the air, guns fell to the ground, and men screamed in Arabic, Hungarian, Russian and another language she knew but couldn’t put a name to.

Shots rang out and she dive to the side, taking cover behind another small boulder, and she shots didn’t let up. She heard more shouting, angry men shouting over one another, and she waited. She held the gun tight to her chest, waiting for a short reprieve where the bullets wouldn’t stop and she could look out from behind her boulder and take a few more shots. She knew in her heart and mind there was no coming back from this, there was no surviving this; but at least she could have a decent body count of terrorists to her name before she died.

Lyra realized the bullets had stopped and in their wake, footsteps on gravel, hurried and anxious, guns tight to their bodies, walking uncoordinated and not in pairs, spread out and completely unorganized. She could count 4 different set of footsteps in her head, 2 in the lead and more assertive, one at least very angry judging by the cursing she could hear from the owner’s mouth. That was the one that was most likely to pull the trigger without looking, and she might be able to use that to her advantage. She looked around her as the footsteps got closer, and found a rock, perfect. One of the shooters was very angry, and that made him easier to manipulate, easier to induce friendly fire.

The two men in the lead were close to her, just yards from her hiding spot, but there were several small boulders she could be hiding behind, and she knew it, so the terrorists knew it too. She hid her body as best she could, aimed the rock in her head, imagining what the situation was behind her based on shadows and sounds, and tossed the rock to her left as hard as she could.

The rock collided with another boulder, making an obvious sound, and the angry man opened fire, shooting at the source of the sounds. Unfortunately for him, the second man in the lead had been right beside that boulder, and he took several 5.56 rounds into his legs and stomach. Lyra heard the man scream and fall to the ground, screaming and gurgling, and then he opened fire on the man that had shot him. Lyra smiled to herself as the other lead terrorist fell down, it was more than she could hope for, but revenge was a strong motivator to make you do things you never would do otherwise, just ask Carrie.

She heard more shouting, a lot of cursing in Russian, and some running followed afterwards. Lyra knew the count in her head, she had 15 rounds, 14 in the clip and one in the chamber, and she had used three. But as soon as she felt like she could take on the 3 voices she heard, there were more voices, more movement, so many feet crunching on gravel. There had to be at least ten pairs of feet, all of them shouting at once, then silence for a short time as another voice, deep, insidious and rough to her ears echoed in the wind. To her, it sounded like their leader had just arrived, and from what she could hear, she was to be taken alive. That never bode well.

Lyra looked down at her gun, wondering if she should do it, take her own life. It was not the way she wanted to go, and might be seen as the weak way of going out, but at least she was going out on her own terms. And there was no way in hell she was letting someone torture the serum out of her. Lyra wiped her eyes, it was sand, dammit, just sand; okay, it wasn’t sand it was fear and resignation. Lyra lifted the gun up to her head and pressed it to her temple, squeezing her eyes shut.

A hard, calloused hand grabbed her wrist and yanked the gun from her grip, and another gun cocked right by her head. A man with very dark intentions written on his face stood over her, her gun in his hand, an evil smirk on his face. His eyes glinted with nothing good as he looked down at her past his large, hooked nose. Despite not carrying a gun of his own, it was clear he was in charge here. Lyra had a moment to look at him before the butt of a gun struck her on the jaw and she fell to the side, grunting with the pain, stars and lights popping before her eyes.

The ground beneath her was also shaking, and she heard the distant sounds of another explosion, maybe on the other side of the mountains. It sounded like several explosions, maybe ten, a dozen, and the ground shook as dirt, sand and rocks rose into the air in the distance, the source of the explosions definitely on the other side of the mountains, but less than ten miles away.

Another hard strike to her face and she coughed up blood, her lip busted and a tooth cracked at least, and her nose started to bleed. The man in charge, with the cold eyes motioned for something, and Lyra felt someone grabbing her arms. She fought in reflex, landing a few hard punches, and at least one cockshot, before a boot landed in her gut, and another punch to her face knocked her out cold.

This is why she fucking hated Afghanistan.

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Lyra was aware of lights in her eyes, shouting all around her, and then silence, blessed silence. She was aware of at least two other men in the room, but only one had a gun. The man was glaring at Lyra with murder on his face, and Lyra smirked to herself, wondering who she had killed that he knew. Fuck them, it was self-defense. She slowly tried to sit up, but something pulled on her wrist and she looked down to see she had been chained to a cot.

Lyra blinked the bright lights and dizziness out of her eyes and looked around some more, taking things in as best she could; she was in a cave, and it was cold all around her, she could even see her own breath. She had been stripped some time while she was unconscious, as she was now wearing some bloodstained army fatigues, and she felt the need to throw up and to rip someone’s junk off all at once. She has issues, this is well established. She hated the idea of one of those terrorist, murdering assholes touching her, taking off her clothes, seeing her in a way that only her boyfriend had seen her before, had any right to see her. Rage seethed deep in her body, and she pulled on the chain a bit to see the give, but it was hard, sturdy and the lock was near the floor. There was no way she was going to pick it without the guard in the room seeing her.

Lyra turned her attention to other man in the room and it was clear that this man was as much a prisoner here as she was. He was tall, lanky, with balding head though his hair was very short, thin, wire-rimmed glasses and a kind face. He had the look in his eyes of despair, and of seeing too much for this lifetime, something she saw in people that lived in warzones, and in doctors. The man noticed her looking and turned to her.

His voice was soft, and as kind as his face appeared, and the way he spoke reminded her of someone educated, so he probably was a doctor. He had a slight accent to her ears, but his English was flawless, not stumbling over his words or trying to find the appropriate translation. Lyra still found it hard sometimes to do that, she felt an odd moment of appreciation to him. He reached out his hand to her and she shook it, taking in his stance and the way he looked. He had been here a while, and seemed to be sleeping on the other cot in the cave.

The cave itself was wired with lights, cameras, and a heavy metal door at the entrance with only a small sliding peephole; she noticed the door wouldn’t open from her side. She looked up and around at the ceiling and lights. There were two cameras, but there were obvious blind spots. One was in the corner and took in most of the room, but not all of it, and there was no camera to account for those blindspots. The other camera looked at the cots, the light blinking obviously at her, mocking her.

The man with the gun walked to her, and unlocked the chain that held her to the floor, and she contemplated for a moment whether or not to take the gun and make a run for it, but there was no telling where she was, how she would get to safety, and she wasn’t the only person in danger now. The man with the gun suckerpunched her hard in the stomach and she retched, rage filling her as she tried to control herself. She couldn’t lose her cool here, not now, not when she was at such a disadvantage.

The kind man looked her face over, and Lyra could tell where the bruises were sprouting up, and the pain in her torso and gut from the punch, but some other pain in her chest and gut. The cowards had probably beat her while she was unconscious, what a pussy way to do it. Lyra groaned as she sat up and stood, stretching her aching body, leaning back and forwards with the grace of someone that had trained with the best, and who had been in ballet and gymnastics her entire childhood. Her parents had thought it would help with her attention issues, until someone pointed out in middle school that she had trouble paying attention because she was bored, and was placed in advanced classes. She still stayed with the gymnastics and it got her a partial scholarship to college. Until she dropped out after her parents died. Car crash; they were hit head on by a drunk driver that walked away from the crash.

Shouting, angry shouting and the sounds of many people heading their way caught Lyra’s attention and she rose to her feet, ready to fight if need be, but the kind man raised his hands and placed them on his head, palms into his hair. He nodded for her to do the same, to do as he did, and she snarled at the men coming into the room but put her hands on her head regardless. She reminded herself she wasn’t the only person at risk now, and needed to think about the other prisoner. Funny, she didn’t even know his name yet and she was already more concerned for his safety than her own.

Two men carrying guns led the way for a procession of men, carrying someone else in their arms, someone covered in blood, wearing what had to be an expensive suit, a well-trimmed goatee, and clearly unconscious. Lyra and the kind man were yanked from their spots in the middle of the cave, and the two cots were jammed together and the unconscious man was placed on it. About ten terrorists surrounded the man, some with guns trained on him some trained on Lyra and the kind man as Lyra looked down at him.

Holy fuck. Tony Stark. Terrorists had gotten ahold of Tony Stark.

She looked up when someone began speaking, and Stark began to scream in pain, shouting and twisting on the cots, trying to move and breath, to get away. Lyra knelt down and held his hand, on reflex, and began to remove his advanced bullet-proof vest. The thing could stop a small-caliber bullet, but it wasn’t good enough to stop the shrapnel that had blasted through his shirt and into his chest. Someone grabbed her hair and yanked her away from the screaming and writhing man and what he had to say was simple.

If Stark died, Lyra and the kind man would die too.

Chapter Text

Lyra looked Stark over as his clothes were cut from his body. He was bloodied, and bruises were forming all over his chest, back, neck and upper abdomen. Small puckering puncture wounds bled freely, the only evidence of the tiny pieces of deadly shrapnel making their way through Stark’s body. Of all places that was dangerous for shrapnel, the chest cavity was the worst. The tiny pieces of metal could easily get into a blood vessel and move into the heart, shredding it internally to pieces, and it could take a week of screaming pain for the victim to finally bleed out. Definitely in the top ten ways to not want to die: slow, painful, incurable, inoperable.

Lyra looked up at the kind man, who was looking the chest over as well, wondering what he could do. They could dig through Stark’s chest and hope they got all the shrapnel, but it was nothing but a pipe dream. There was no way to stop the pieces of shrapnel from moving around, to stop them from ripping Stark from the inside out. Lyra paused and looked up, then around at her surroundings. It was a long shot, but they might be able to keep the pieces from moving into his heart, keep them from moving any more than they already had.

“Prep him for surgery, we need to open him up.” The kind man looked up at her, eyes concerned and resigned. She wasn’t about to give up, not yet. Stark was a genius, and him living would only increase their chances of getting out alive. And SHIELD would be looking for her, the army looking for Stark. All they needed was time, and a way to keep Stark alive.

“What are you doing?” The kind man looked up, though he had already begun to clean Stark’s chest off and call for supplies. They had nothing to use as a scalpel, only a dull knife, no antibiotics, no anesthetics, nothing to stop Stark from walking up and thrashing around and getting his chest full of dull blade.

“If I make something to keep the shrapnel in place, can you help me anchor it?” The kind man looked at her like she had lost her mind, then something clicked into place, and he understood what she was asking, what she was aiming for. “I can do that.” Lyra nodded to him and turned around to get some things from the far side of the cave, but was met by a wall of terrorist bodies and tried to push past. She growled at them, then began to shout a list of things she needed to save Stark. “You want him to live, get me those things.”

Copper wire, a car battery, a small welding iron with welding metal and magnifying glass. A knife sharpener, clean, boiled water and rags. Chloroform or something to keep Stark out cold that did not involve a blow to the head. Steel wool or grinder and sander, duct tape and electrical tape. And a large piece of something made of iron, preferable something circular.

The men snarled at her, they wouldn’t take orders from her, some American woman that had killed several of their own, until she grabbed someone by their collar, and shouted in Arabic, “You want Stark to live or not?! Get me what I need.” Someone punched her on the side of her head, but it was like a butterfly kiss compared to what she had endured earlier, and finally someone began to move.

Pieces of weaponry and machines pieces were tossed aside as the men started looking for what Lyra had demanded. The water and clean rags were the easiest, and a knife sharpener was next. She and the kind man, who introduced himself as Yensen, washed their hands and arms up to their elbows, and tied Stark to the cots, his arms and legs tied tight to the base and locked to the ground like Lyra had been. If he moved at all, they could sever an artery and kill him in seconds.

Lyra sharpened the knife with care and a practiced hand. She had seen Clint and Romanov do this over and over before and after missions, something they did without fail. Romanov loved her knives, and cleaned them almost obsessively, like how Clint cared for his bow and arrows. Yensen looked occasionally at the way she was prepping the knife, and she could feel some of the men looking at her too, beginning to understand she wasn’t just some American woman that happened to be in the desert, she was a threat, and dangerous. Not just a scientist, but a good shot, better than most of them, smart, tactical, and ruthless.

There was a reason Coulson was grateful she hadn’t become a supervillain.

The knife was as sharp as it was going to get and Lyra handed it over to Yensen to open up Stark and get out the shrapnel that he could. She turned her sights to the piece of hardware that would prevent the pieces that he couldn’t get out from shredding Stark’s heart, and the rest of his chest.

The piece of iron was larger than her palm, round, and shaped like an enclosed ball-bearing ring. That’s what it probably was; Lyra scraped the thing clean with the steel wool, and looked it over. She ran the calculations on a piece of scrap paper that happened to be instructions on how to clean and assemble/disassemble a Stark rifle. Ironic. As he feared, she needed more iron. She sent someone to get more as she plugged in the welding iron, set up the magnifying glass on a small stand with duct tape and stripped some copper wires.

By the time the man came back with another chunk of iron and Lyra had cleaned it, Stark was awake, screaming and moving around, while Yensen’s hands in his chest. Lyra shot up from her seat, knowing her hands were covered in metal shavings, dust and dirt, but it didn’t matter for the moment. She placed some chloroform on a rag, and placed it over Stark’s face, letting him breathe in the fumes that would leave him with one hell of a headache in a few hours when the affects wore off. She stroked his hair as she held him down, Yensen holding the blade in his hands, not willing to work again until Stark was out cold. Lyra made shushing noises, stroked Stark’s hair as she held the rag over his mouth, whispering the words over and over again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Finally, the man stopped screaming and moving, his face calm, out cold and not thinking anything as he slept.

Lyra stood up again and looked at Yensen. He had taken out two pieces of shrapnel, the largest pieces he could get, embedded in the muscle and flesh of Stark’s chest, but the rest were in to deep, or in too dangerous a spot for him to just reach in and pull out. All he could do now was wait for Lyra to finish her work.

It took Lyra almost an hour to finish the electromagnet before it was ready to be placed in Stark’s chest; she could only imagine the pain he would be in once he woke up. Pieces of metal would dig into his skin constantly from the hardware, and some of those scars would never heal properly. He was going to lose about 30% of his lung capacity to make room for the electromagnet, and from the surgery and damage itself. Stark would spend the rest of his life in constant pain, however long that would be. As she hooked up the electromagnet to the car battery and it powered up, she could feel the magnetic field around it, and the knife that Yensen had in his hand was yanked to the center of the magnet, only stopping when Lyra grabbed the blade to stop him from accidentally stabbing Stark in the chest.

Lyra pulled the blade from Yensen’s hands and put it to the side, where it was taken away, like everything else that had been brought to her. She rubbed where the sharp blade had cut into her hand and looked the damage over. It bled, but it wasn’t deep enough to worry about dexterity; she was more concerned about infection.

That was the real danger with Stark too. This was far from a sanitary environment, and the chance that Stark got an infection from either the surgery, the device itself, of the dirty shrapnel was very high. Lyra looked down at the one of the most intelligent people on the world and sighed. Even if Stark lived to see the sun come up, which was only about a 50-50 chance, he would probably be dead in a week. Once the battery ran out of power, the magnet would be useless, just a hunk of contaminated metal in his chest, opening his body to the dirty air in this cave. That is, if the infection didn’t kill him first.

Lyra sat on the floor beside Stark, looking up at him once in a while, wondering if he would wake up. After some time, she just gave up and asked Yensen, who seemed much more charged now that he wasn’t alone in his hellhole anymore, to wake her up if Stark woke. Yensen nodded and Lyra pulled a pillow over to a corner of the cave and lay on the cold ground, the blanket a thin protection against the cold sucking the heat from her body, but she was exhausted, injured and needed to get some sleep if she was going to figure a way out of this place.

The only thing going for her, is that she knew someone would be looking for her. She was too valuable to SHIELD for them to not try and find her. And Stark, he would have the entire US armed forces looking for him, considering what he did for the military. They needed him alive, and needed him back. So, between the Armed Forces and SHIELD, someone was bound to be in the area. It was just a matter of giving them a place to look.

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Coulson was on the ground, the desert heat beating down on him and the rest of the team with him. The caravan carrying Lyra Wilson and the rest of the scientific team had been ambushed and someone had gotten an SOS out, but there was nothing left but smoldering Humvees and dead agents. High winds had taken out any hope of finding some tracks to follow, and the mountains had a very extensive cave system, and most of the mountains were layered in magnetic rock, throwing off any readings they took. And the heat coming off the rocks and sand was so high that it hid any body heat. Finding Lyra would be like looking for a tiny needle in a haystack surrounded by snarling wolverines.

Coulson had an idea who was responsible; the Ten Rings had a heavy presence in the area, and they most likely had no idea who they might have attacked. They had combed the area for a mile in every direction, and Coulson could see where someone had endured a standoff with several targets, taking them out with military precision, but even better, by someone trained by the best sniper in the world. So he knew it was Lyra, and she was alive. They hadn’t found her body; her captors must have realized she was important and the main person the caravan was protecting, but didn’t know how she was important.

Romanov had her feelers out for some kind of notice in the underground world that Lyra was being offered up, or that she had been moved or taken by someone else. The Ten Rings having her, well, their tech was not advanced enough for what she did, but if they put it out there with other contacts that they had Lyra Wilson, creator of not only the modern version of the Supersolder Serum, but the Hail Mary Play, and all its variants, the dark organizations all over the world, and some companies would be fighting one another to get their hands on her.

Coulson had heard also that Tony Stark, the weapons genius, had also been taken in the same area. He had already briefed Col. Rhodes, liaison to Stark industries and Stark’s friend, to look out for both of them. Odds were that both of them were being held in the same place. Coulson smirked to himself. Between Lyra and Stark, their IQs were more than any group of terrorists combined, and there would be hell to pay once they got their feet under them.

Basically, Coulson was waiting for a piece of a mountain to explode into tiny pieces, or melt into a blob of toxic goo. That was where he would find Lyra and Stark. He almost felt bad for the bad guys now. They would be in for a load of shit when Stark and Lyra worked together. He smirked, then it fell when he got a text that Barton was back in the country and demanding answers. This would not go well. Barton and Lyra had become close over the last two years she had been at SHIELD, and while she technically wasn’t working for SHIELD, and was not an agent, she had trained with Barton for hours at a time on the range and in the gym.

Barton and Lyra had formed a fast friendship, their dark sense of humor matching up and seeing one another as siblings. Lyra and Romanov got along well enough too, and had spent their first ‘girl day’ together just a week before this shitstorm. Which apparently had involved pedicures. Fury’s shocked face had been epic when he had seen them, toes painted, faces glowing, Romanov giggling, fucking giggling, as they sipped wine and had talked about nothing in particular.

Coulson let his team continue the cleanup and sweep of the area, trying to get anything they could out of the blood, gore and mashed up metal they could.

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JARVIS scanning mode: active

Satellite position: optimal

Sensory mode: active

Location: Kumar region, Afghanistan

Locating Mr. Tony Stark…

Locating…

Locating…

Location failed

Motion sensory input: active

Sir’s caravan escort location: inactive

One km north: inactive

One km east: inactive

One km west: inactive

One km south: inactive

Widening scanning area by one km

Scanning…

Scanning…

Scanning…

Sir located: negative

Motion sensory input: active indefinitely unless Sir located or confirmed deceased

Logged to JARVIS.file

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Tony woke with a start, a pressure on his chest and a loud groan escaping his mouth as he looked around, terrified. He remembered brief moments of panic, a lot of pain, and the feeling of someone touching his hair, whispering sorry over and over. He pulled the long, thin tube out of his nose with a wince, trying not to gag as the damn thing grazed the inside of his throat. He could see a metal cup with water in it and tried to reach it, but he was so damn uncoordinated that it fell to the ground with a clatter. He was aware of a man standing not too far from him, shaving in front of a broken mirror, humming softly to himself.

At the sound of the metal clanging, Lyra jolted awake, and looked up to see Stark moving around, trying to reach for the water on the side table. He reached too far, and the large cables that powered the magnet in his chest caught.

“Don’t do that,” Lyra said softly as she stood up and hurried over to him. Stark began to rip the bandages off his chest and gasped in horror at the massive and unattractive metal monstrosity in his chest. Lyra offered him some water as he looked down at himself, eyes wide and more terrified than anyone had any right to be. Lyra felt for him, she did, but there really had been no choice.

Lyra helped Stark drink some water, his face not leaving what he could see of his chest. Lyra sighed and asked Yensen to bring over a shattered piece of mirror for Stark to see the entire thing in his chest. It was larger than Stark’s hand, which were bigger than Lyra’s, weighing at least ten pounds, and scraping at his chest already as he stared at it in the small mirror shard in his hand.

“What the fuck did you do to me?!” He shouted and Lyra bristled. “I thought you would recognize an electromagnet when you saw one Stark. It’s stopping the shrapnel from moving around your body and shredding you internally.” Lyra took the mirror from Stark despite his angry growl and Yensen came over, a small glass tube in his hand, tiny pieces of sharp metal jangling around inside, completely innocuous, unless let loose inside the human body.

Yensen tells Stark about the procedure while Lyra looks the wound over, looking at the scarring, the wounds, checking for infection, movement of the magnet, anything that might kill Stark right away. Stark fidgeted and kept trying to pull himself away from her prying hands and discerning gaze, but Yensen kept putting his hand on the back of his neck, and Lyra kept scolding him for moving. “Dammit Stark, I’m a chemist, not a doctor, so hold the fuck still.” Stark got the reference and couldn’t stop the faint huff of laughter from his mouth. Yensen smiled softly, getting the reference too.

“Well, good news is I don’t see anything that will kill you in the next few hours.” Lyra pulled herself up to sit beside Stark, who was staring at her, his eyes hard and confused and worried. “There’s bad news layered in there somewhere.” Lyra nodded at Stark and sighed.

“The electromagnet it stopping the shrapnel from moving, but there is no telling what other damage was done that we didn’t see. Infection is likely, considering the shithole we’re stuck in,” Lyra said as she motioned around the cave and Stark was going steadily paler. And she hadn’t even gotten to the worse part yet.

“The electromagnet, it isn’t a cure all Stark. And once the battery runs out, the shrapnel will move again. Even by some miracle, you don’t get infection and we get a replacement for the battery in time…” Lyra paused and wasn’t sure she wanted to plant this idea in his head. If he thought he was a dead man walking, he might just give up and not bother trying to escape.

“How long?” Stark could see the hesitance on her face and knew what it meant, what it meant for him. “A week, maybe two.”

Stark looked at her, horrified, then something new crossed his face and it wasn’t the hopelessness she was fearing; it was the same thing she was feeling inside, the same feeling she had gotten the moment she saw that Tony Stark, weapons designer and engineering genius, was in this cave with her and her chances of escape suddenly skyrocketed. It was determination. And a heaping helping of rage, but mostly determination.

“Well, then this is a very important week for us then, isn’t it?” Yensen spoke up and looked from one to the other, seeing the unspoken and hidden language in their face and their eyes, and for the first time in months, he felt something that pulse in his chest, something that felt suspiciously like hope.

Then shouting from the other side of the door, footsteps, more shouting and the door rattling and scraping as it was forced open. They were coming, and whatever they had planned, all three of them knew it wouldn’t be good.