It was a dark and stormy night.
In her attic bedroom Virginia Pepper Potts, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the treestossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.
The house shook.
Wrapped in her quilt, Pepper shook.
She wasn't usually afraid of weather. It's not just the weather, she thought. It's the weather on top of everything else.
At school, one of the boys had said something about her "dumb baby brother." At this she'd tackled him with every ounce of strength she had, and received a bloody nose and a detention for her trouble.
Suddenly she remembered that in town they'd been talking about a tramp who was supposed to have stolen twelve sheets from Mrs. Parker, the nice old widow whose nephew was in Pepper's class.
I need some cocoa, she though. At least then if the tramp came with a knife, she'd be warm. And I could throw the cocoa in his face, she thought, cheering a little.
In the kitchen a light was already on, and Anthony Edward was sitting at the table drinking milk and eating bread and jam, wearing faded blue footie pajamas, his feet swinging a good six inches above the floor.
"Hi," he said cheerfully. "I've been waiting for you." He gestured at the cupboard over the sink. "I can't reach the bourbon. Could you grab it? I'd like some in my milk."
"Keep trying," Pepper said, taking the second mug of hot milk from him. "One day that might work. When you're twenty-one."
"I'll be charming liquor out of people way sooner than that," he said.
"You need to be willing to talk to strangers, first," she replied.
"Eh," little Anthony Edward said, applying himself to his milk. "People are nowhere near as interesting as me. I think I'll have to build an artificial intelligence if I want someone to keep up with me." He tilted his head with the thoughtful look that made Pepper know he was thinking hard but always made the townspeople say of her family that "the baby boy doesn't seem to be all there."
Suddenly, there was a tremendous clatter outside the kitchen door.
"It's the tramp," yelled Pepper. "I know it's the tramp! Get behind me, Anthony Edward, and I'll throw hot milk in his face."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Anthony Edward, hopping down from the chair in his PJs. "It's not a tramp, it's just Mrs. Hill. Although," he added, grinning, "it would be hilarious if you threw the hot milk in her face."
The kitchen door opened, and the person who came in -- well, didn't look like Pepper's idea of a tramp at all. She was small, and underneath the shocking pink scarves wrapped around her head, she appeared to be wearing a military uniform. Was she a dangerous AWOL vet? Pepper prepared to throw herself between the tramp and her brother in order to give Anthony Edward time to run.
"Mrs. Hill," Anthony said suspiciously, "what are you doing here? And at this time of night, too?"
"I got blown off course in the helicarrier," Mrs. Hill answered. "And when I realized I was at Potts's -- I mean at dear little Anthony Edward's house, I thought I would just come in for a cup of tea."
"How did you know this was Anthony Edward's house?" Pepper asked.
"Oh, we always keep a tracker on Anthony Edward," said Mrs. Hill. "That way we can grab him when we need him."
Pepper was appalled, but Anthony Edward just grinned. "Just wait until I'm old enough to get myself to Miami Beach for spring break," he said. "You'll enjoy your surveillance video more, then."
"Anthony Edward!" Pepper cried. "Can we wait until you start kindergarten, or preferably middle school, before you throw around innuendo like that?"
"I'm precocious," said Anthony Edward. "That's my word for the day. Impressive, isn't it?"
"Impressive like a plague," muttered Mrs. Hill under her breath.
"What did you say?" demanded Pepper.
Mrs. Hill ignored her. "Look, Potts," she said, addressing Anthony Edward directly. "We need you. Mrs. Coulson, Mrs. Fury and I."
"Wait, wait!" cried Anthony Edward. "Let me grab Pepper's phone. I want to record you saying that!"
Mrs. Hill glared at him. "It's not funny, Potts," she said. "The fate of the universe is at stake."
Pepper stamped her foot. "Anthony Edward is a little boy," she said. "And I think you should leave. Now."
"Aw, Peptide," said Anthony Edwards, slipping one small hand in hers. "You care! But don't send Mrs. Hill out yet. It's much too wild a night to travel in."
"Wild nights are my glory," Mrs. Hill said. "Don't worry about me, Potts. I shall just be on my way. Speaking of ways, pet, by the way. there is such a thing as a tesseract."