Emergency services came rushing to the destruction. Reporters would be here soon enough. Paramedics hurried around him and Maya. He wasn't letting the woman out of his sight. He was currently being looked over in the back of an ambulance.
“Mr. Stark we need to take you to the hospital,” said the paramedic.
“It’s Rogers and I’m not going anywhere,” said Steve.
“You’re in shock it common for omega who have recently lost their mates,”
“My mate isn’t dead!” he yelled.
Steve got up, leaving the ambulance. His unborn pup was healthy. She'd survived worse than this. She kicked reassuringly against his hand. He growled when the paramedics tried coming near him again. Steve sighed. He traced his claim mark. It tingled under the touch. At his feet was an ironman helmet. He struggled to reach it.
“Let me,” said Maya.
She handed it to him. He clutched it firmly.
Pepper was stopped by police.
"Mam, we can't let you through,"
"Let her through," said Steve.
They let her through.
“We were attacked most likely by associates of the Mandarin,” said Steve.
“He fell into the water,” said Steve.
The coast guard was searching the water underneath his home. His gut told him they wouldn't find Tony. He called upon their bond, hoping for a response, but there was none, but that connection was still there.
Pepper didn’t dare cry she could tell Steve was barely holding it together. There was an unknown woman standing by his side.
“Who are you?”
“Dr. Maya Hansen,”
Pepper shook her head. She could focus on the beta doctor later.
Steve wanted to be there despite how ridiculously slim the chance was of Tony returning here. But it wasn't safe here.
“You’re coming with us,”
They got into Pepper's car. The drive to Pepper's home was quiet. Steve spent the entire drive watching the scenery pass. At his feet was his shield next to him was Tony's helmet. They pulled into Pepper's driveway. She unlocked the large double doors.
“On a mission,”
“I’ll get the two of you some fresh clothes,” said Pepper.
Maya followed Steve into a living room. He turned on the news. Every news channel was reporting on it. She wanted to talk about Killian, but now clearly wasn't the time. Everyone here was exhausted and stressed. At the moment she did not want to risk getting on Captain America's bad side. He may be pregnant but he was a force to reckon with.
Steve noticed the beta was twitching.
"We should be safe here for the time being. Tony set up the security system here,” said Steve.
“That didn’t do much for you,” she said.
Steve growled lowly.
“Sorry, I’m just nervous,”
There was a sharpness to his voice that made her wary. She didn't take it personally. He was a pregnant omega whose alpha was lost. She looked over him there were no so sign of injury. The super soldier serum may not work as fast as Extremis, but it was stable and long-lasting. Her discomfort grew enough for her to move. She wandered into the kitchen. Pepper handed her a set of fresh clothes.
“There’s a bathroom over there you can change in,”
She quickly changed.
“Don’t take it personally,” said Pepper and she came back into the kitchen.
“The way Steve is acting. He has difficulty trusting scientists,” said Pepper.
“He married to one,”
"Tony was different,"
Pepper made Steve a sandwich. He stared blankly at the wall. His shield rested by his feet and Tony’s helmet sat on the coffee table in front of him. She gently squeezed his shoulder. Maya followed her back to the kitchen.
“Can I please discuss this with you?”
“Because Steve is the best person to discuss this situation. This is more his world than mine. I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Pepper.
“I don’t think he’s any position to handle this. He’s a pregnant omega in shock,”
"Who wouldn't be in shock after this?"
“He needs time to snap out this,”
“We don’t have that kind of time,”
"I'm not equipped to help,"
Maya went back into the living room. She had to try and get through to Steve.
“I should say this sooner, but I’m sorry,”
Tony slowly opened his eyes. An alarm was ringing in his ears. He was flying.
“Alright kill the alarm,”
“That the emergency alert trigger by the power dropping below five percent,”
He was speeding toward the ground. This was going to be a crash landing. He skidded across the road barely missing an oncoming truck. Trees snapped as rocketed through them, before finally stopping in the snow. He slowly moved onto his back, catching his breath. Tony took off his mask. Snow fell onto his face.
"It's snowing right. Where are we upstate?"
“We are five miles outside of Rose Hill Tennessee,”
“Why?! Jarvis not my idea. What are we doing here? This is thousands of miles of away. I’ve got to get Steve,”
“I prepared a flight plan this was the locations,” said Jarvis.
"Who ask you? Open suit,"
“I think I might be malfunctioning, sir,”
“Open it J,”
The suit unlocked. He sat up breathing in the crisp air.
“Ah, that’s brisk,”
He warmed his hands, before rubbings snow over the road rash on his arms.
“Maybe I’ll just cozy back up for-
“Actually, I think I need to sleep now, sir,”
"Jarvis. Jarvis? Don't leave me, buddy"
He was alone. Something he hadn't truly felt for some time now. He touched the claim marking his neck. Steve, the man was probably furious and worried sick about him right now. Staying here was an option. He got to his feet and found some old chain and looped them around his suit. Then began trudging through the snow. Only five miles.
An old gas station came into view. He dropped the chains and went to a wooden Indian wearing a poncho, taking off and putting it on. He went to the phone booth. Did he even have change? He panted down his pockets and finding a dollar in quarters. Tony dialed in the number for his secure server.
"Stark secure server now transferring to all known receivers,"
"Steve, it's me. I've got a lot of apologies to make but not a lot of time. First off I'm so sorry I put you in harm's way. That was selfish and stupid of me and it won't happen again. Also, it’s close to Christmas time and for the first time, I had a family to celebrate it with again and managed to mess that up, sorry. And I'm sorry in advance because I can't come home yet. I need to find this guy. You gotta stay safe that’s all I know. I just stole a poncho from a wooden Indian. And I love you,”
The line went dead as his time ran out. He pushed open the door, grabbed his suit. Shelter and time to think were what he needed. He knocked down the door to an old garage. It would do. He dragged his suit in, placing it on the ragged old couch.
"Let's get you comfy,"
He moved the armor into a comfortable position.
“You happy now?”
He took a moment to catch his breath. Why didn't he just listen to his mate? He shook away the thought and went to the work desk, switching on the lamp. From the toolbox, he took a pair of needlenosed pliers and started removing the shrapnel from his arm.
There was a kid. A young alpha armed with a potato gun. Maybe ten.
“You got me,”
Tony raised his hands.
“Nice potato gun. The barrel is a little long between the and the long gage you’re going to admonish your distance"
The kid shot off a potato shatter a jar behind him.
“And now you’re out of ammo,”
“What’s that thing on your chest?”
“It’s an electromagnet. You should know you got a box of them right here,” said Tony, rattling the box.
“What does it power?”
Tony moved out of the way so the kid could see his suit.
“Oh my god!”
The kid dropped his gun to get a better look.
“Is that? Is that Ironman?” he asked.
“Technically, I am,”
“Technically, you’re dead,” said the kid, handing him a newspaper.
MANDARIN ATTACK STARK PRESUMED DEAD
Tony looked over the paper. Searching for any mention of Steve. He was relieved when he read that his mate and unborn pup were healthy. If something had happened them! No, they are fine. He had to stay focused. The sooner he figured out this the sooner he could get back to them.
“What happened to him?”
The boy sat next to his suit playing with its fingers.
“Life, I built him. I take care of him. I’ll fix him,” said Tony tossing the paper the couch.
“Like a mechanic,”
“If I were building Ironman and War Machine-
“It’s Iron Patriot now,”
“That’s way cooler,”
“No, it’s not,”
"Anyway, I would add in umm the retro-
"To make him, stealth mode,"
“You want a stealth mode,”
“That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll build one,”
He twitched when the kid accidentally broke off one of the suit’s fingers.
“Not a good idea,”
“What are you doing? You’re going to break his finger. He’s injured. He’s in pain. Leave him alone,” said Tony.
The kid just looked up at him.
“Don’t worry about it I’ll fix it. What your name kid?”
“The mechanic, Tony,”
“So who’s home,”
“My mom already left for the diner and Dad went to 7-Eleven to get scratchers. I guess he won because that was six years ago,” he said.
“Mmm, which happens dads leave. There’s no reason to be a pussy about it. Here’s what I need a laptop, a digital watch, a cell phone, the nomadic actuator from your potato gun over there, a map of town, a big spring, and a tuna fish sandwich," said Tony.
“What’s in it for me?” asked Harley.
“Salvation, what his name?”
“The kid that bullies you at school. What his name?”
“How do you know that?”
“I got just the thing,”
He went his suit, pressing down on one of the panels. It opened.
“This is a pinata for a cricket. I’m kidding it’s a very powerful weapon. Point it away from your face and twist the button on top and it discourages bullying. Not lethal just to cover one’s ass. Deal?” said Tony.
He gave it to the kid.
"You know what keeps going through my head? Where's my sandwich?"
The kid left. He didn't want to work. Just a moment of rest so he could function. He sat down on the couch with his suit and closed his eyes.
Steve had been staring at the wall for hours now. A red blinking light in Tony helmet caught his attention. He put it on. The electronics came alight.
“Stark secure sever rental scan verified,”
He gasped when he heard Tony’s voice.
“Steve, it's me. I've got a lot of apologies to make but not a lot of time. First off I'm so sorry I put you in harm's way. That was selfish and stupid of me and it won't happen again. Also, it's close to Christmas time and for the first time, I had a family to celebrate it with again and managed to mess that up, sorry. And I'm sorry in advance because I can't come home yet. I need to find this guy. You gotta stay safe that’s all I know. I just stole a poncho from a wooden Indian. And I love you,”
“Who is your boss?” asked Steve.
Maya looked. The omega seemed to have broken out of his shock. In his hands was Tony’s helmet.
“It’s safe for you to talk,”
“Tony, said you were a botanist,” said Steve.
"It figures what I actually am biological DNA coder running a team of forty out of privately funded think tank, but sure can call me a botanist. So any ideas on what to do?” asked Maya.
"We lay low. Tony has a plan. I'm going to trust that he knows what he's doing,"
“How do you even know he’s alive?” asked Maya.
“He’s my mate. I know,” he said.
Steve handed helmet to Pepper.
“Put it on,”
He had to prove that he wasn’t an omega going insane with grief. Her posture changed as the message played.
He jumped from the couch in panic. The kid was staring at him. He was backed into the corner with a bag of supplies. Tony wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“You okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine what about you?”
“I have an anxiety issue,"
The kid came back about an hour later with the supplies. Harley dropped some clothes next to him.
“Thought you could use something wear. My mom won’t notice they’re gone. She packed my dad’s clothes years ago,” said Harley.
The spring was a bit rusty, but everything else would make due. He quickly unwrapped the sandwich.
“This is good,”
“Thanks, so what’s Captain America like?”
“He lives up to the legend,”
“What his shield made of?”
“Vibranium, it’s stronger than steel and a third the weight. It’s completely vibration absorbent,” he said.
He finished off the rest of the sandwich before they left for town.
“The sandwich was fair. The spring was a little rusty. The rest of the material. I’ll make do. By the way when you said your sister had a watch. I was kinda hoping for something a little bit more adult,” said Tony pulling back his sleeve to reveal the Dora Explorer watch.
“She’s six. Anyway, it's limited edition. You should get used to Dora the Explorer. I'm sure you'll be watching plenty of it soon enough," he said.
"I think my pup will be a bit advanced for Dora the Explorer," said Tony.
“Sure, when can we talk about New York?”
“Maybe never. Relax about it,”
“What about the Avengers can we talk about that?”
“Later, give me some space,”
The reached the explosion site. It was light with candles. Flowers, wreaths, and crossed decorated the scene. The black vaporized shadows of those caught in the explosion marked the cinder block walls.
“What’s the official story here? What Happened?”
“I guess this guy named Chad Davis used to live around here won a bunch of medals in the army. Then one-day folks said he went crazy and made a bomb. Then he blew himself up right here," said Harley.
Tony traced his hand along the shadowed marks on the wall.
“Six people died right?”
“Including Chad Davis,”
"Yeah, that makes sense,"
He took a seat beside the kid, looking over the shadows.
“Think about it. Six dead only five shadows,” said Tony.
"People say these shadows are the marks of souls going to heaven. Except the bomb guy went to hell on account that he didn't get a shadow. That's why there's only five,"
“Do you buy that?”
“That’s what everyone says,”
Tony shook his head. He doubted the kid believed in that, for now, he could along with the story, instead of telling the true reasoning behind the shadows.
"You know what this crater reminds me of?"
“I don’t care,”
"That giant wormhole in um in New York. Does it remind you?"
"That's manipulative. I don't want to talk about it," said Tony.
He didn't see that resemblance before now the small crater they were sitting in was a staunch reminder of it. He backed away slightly.
“Are they coming back? The aliens”
“Maybe, can you stop?”
That edging panic was growing uncomfortably near and the kid wasn’t helping. He took a breath trying to steady himself.
“Remember when I told you I have an anxiety issue?”
“Does this subject make you edgy?” asked Harley.
“Yeah, a little bit. Can I just catch my breath for a second?”
The simple task of breathing was becoming a difficult task.
"Do you need a plastic bag to breathe into? Do you have medication?”
“Do you need to be on it?”
“Do you have PTSD?”
“I don’t think so,”
“Are you going completely mental? I can stop. Do you want me to stop?”
His breaths came in short puff.
“Remember when I said stop doing that? I swear you’re going to freak me out,”
The kid stopped but it was too late. He got up not wanting to be anywhere near Harley if this went bad.
“Ah, you did it now. Are you happy now?”
“What did I say?”
He ran. Partly from the kid but mostly because of the panic.
“Hey, wait up!”
Harley chased behind him, which didn’t help. The creeping anxiety became too much. He tore off his coat hoping it would release the constraining sensation engulfing his chest. He toppled to his knees landing on the snow. Tony tried focusing on the feel frigid snow under his hands. Any sensation was better than the nervous rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins. It seemed to be working.
“What the hell was that?” asked Harley.
He pressed snow against his face. The stinging cold sensation gave him something focus on until he was brought back to a better state of mind. He threw the snow at Harley.
“You spazzed me out,”
The kid smiled.
“Back to business where were we? The guy who died. Relatives? Mom? Mrs. Davis where is she?”
“Where she always is,” said Harley.
“See now you’re being helpful,”
Mrs. Davis location was a bar called Walker's. The kid followed him.
"No, you stay here,"
"If this turns I don't want you getting in the way," said Tony.
He kept his head down as he walked toward the bar. Accidentally running into a woman. She'd dropped her wallet. He picked it up.
"Lady is this yours,"
She took it. There were burns a long one side of her face. He was staring.
“Nice hair cut,”
“Nice watch. Yeah, it’s a limited edition,”
“Oh, I don’t doubt it,” she said.
“Well, have a good evening,” she said.
He went in, taking stock of the bar audience. Country music was playing in the background. There was only one weapon he could spot, the sheriff's revolver. Toward the back, he found who he was looking for. She sat alone with a heavy expression, fiddling with some dog tags.
“Mrs. Davis, mind if I join you?”
“Free country,” she said.
He put down his glass and took the seat beside her.
“Alright, where’d you like to start?”
She took out a folder placing it on the table.
“I just want to say I’m sorry about your loss. I want to know what you think happened,” said Tony.
She bit her knuckled, trying to process him. Tony didn’t know who the woman had been expecting, but he needed to gain all he could from her.
“Look I brought your damn file take it and go. Whatever was in here he wanted no part of it,” she said sliding it toward him.
He flipped it open.
“Clearly you’re waiting for someone else. Were suppose to meet someone here?” said Tony.
MIA was printed on the corner of one of the pages. He closed the folder.
“Mrs. Davis your son didn’t kill himself. I grantee you that he didn’t kill anyone. Someone used him,” said Tony.
Her saddened eyes widened.
“Someone used him as a weapon,” said Tony.
“You’re not the person who called me after all,” she said.
“Actually, I am,”
A badge was stamped down on the table. It was the woman with burns. She pinned his armed against his back, slamming him against the table. He snagged to dogs from the table, tucking them into his pocket. His hands were cuffed.
"Hey, hey what's this all about," asked the sheriff.
“It’s called an arrest,” she said.
She pushed him to ground.
"It's the sheriff isn't it,"
“Yes, and you are?” he asked.
“Homeland Security, we good here,” she said.
"No, we're not good. I need a little more information than that," said the sheriff.
“Well, I think it’s a little above your pay grade, sheriff,”
While the two were talking Tony gestured to Mrs. Davis. She slid the file under a pool table.
“Deputy get this woman-
She slammed glowing badge into his face, cutting him off. It seared into his face. Her heated hand stabbed into his chest before she tossed him back. A deputy ran to intervene but stopped when she drew her gun. She fired.
Tony took the chance to escape. He needed to get her out of there.
“Hey, hot wing want to party just you and me. Let’s go,”
He ran out onto the road. Stopping in his tracks when of her friends appeared. The man raised his cup to him, with a glowing orange smile. Tony shot passed his head. He dove for cover behind a car. Tony jumped through the window of a nearby diner, sliding across the floor.
He lunged over a countertop, dodging the shotgun blast aimed for his head. A second passed and peaked over the counter. She grabbed him by the collar, dragging him to his feet. A punch to the jaw knocked him off balance. They tangled in battle. He locked the chained of the handcuffs around her neck. Only for the metal melt against her heated skin.
He ducked behind the kitchen. The cuffs burnt against his wrist, but they fell away, giving him more of a chance in this fight. He pushed a can of gas into the kitchen, tossing his molten cuff liquid, catching it aflame. He turned on the microwave, tossing the dog tags inside. She came through the flames.
“You walked right into this one I’ve dated hotter chicks than you,”
Her skin was covered in ash, glowing as it tried to repair. He pulled the gas tube.
"Is that all you got? Cheap tricks and cheesy one-liners,"
“Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography,”
He took shelter behind an ice machine. The dog tags tinged against in microwave before the explosion went off. He slowly got his feet. Scared citizens ran passed him. Hanging on the electrical wire above him was the woman. She didn’t seem to be waking up. There was a groan of metal behind him. The water tower was tilting toward him.
He ran through the Christmas tree farm, ducking when he hit the chain link fence. The trailer behind crumbled as the water tower collapsed. Water rushed over him. Fuck that was cold. He ankle was caught in under the metal.
“Let me go!”
The kid! The buzzed cut asshole had the kid! He tried moving the metal but he was helpless. Every instinct screamed at him to protect the pup. He struggled against the metal pinning, growling at the man. The jackass was sitting in Santa chair in front.
"Anyway, kid what do you want you like for Christmas?"
“Mr. Stark, I’m so sorry,” cried Harley.
“Up no, no. He was trying to say I want my goddam file,”
“Not your fault kid. Remember what I told you about bullies?”
It clicked. The kid set off the flashbang made a run for it. Now that he was safe Tony could focus.
“Like that West World? That’s the thing about smart guys we always cover our ass,”
He shot of an arc reactor blast, sending the jackass backward. Tony dislodged himself from the metal. He snagged the guy’s keys. Then snuck back into the bar to snag the file. Quickly, thumbing through it outside.
It was Harley. The kid looked perfectly fine.
“For what did I miss something?”
“Me, saving your life,”
“Yeah, A I saved you first. B thanks sorta. And C if you do someone a solid don’t be a yutz play cool or you come off grandiose,” said Tony.
He unlocked the car.
“Unlike you?” said Harley.
Tony took a breath and faced the kid. He really wanted a clean getaway.
“Admit it you need me. We’re connected,”
"What I need is for you to go home be with your mom. Keep your trap shut and guard the suit. And stay connected because when I call you better pick up, okay? Can you feel that we're done here? Move or I'll run you over,” said Tony.
He got into the car and rolled down the window.
“I’m sorry, kid. You did good,”
“So now you’re just going to leave me here? Like my dad,”
“Yep, wait you’re guilt tripping me aren’t you?”
“I’m cold,” whimpered Harley.
“I can tell. Do you know how I can tell? Cause we’re connected,” said Tony pulling out onto the road.
The kid would be safer now that he was gone. So was his mate.