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Strange Souls

Chapter Text

KRAKOOM!

Ellis Willsby shivered. Tonight was not her night she thought, peeking at the storm raging out the windshield. Her little wipers wheezingly tried to keep up with the down pour but could barely make a dent in the visibility; and she still had miles to go. It really wasn’t her night.  

As a social worker, Ellis had just gotten home from a long day of being able to do nothing. It didn’t matter if she was a hundred percent sure there was some sort of abuse happening with her cases, unless the child or the mother confirmed what neighbors heard the law had tied her hands. And after ten different cases of the same old same old “I fell” line, Ellis just wanted a nice glass of wine before she cried herself to sleep. Of course with the day she had, the social worker would get a call after being only halfway into her merlot.

Which led to her current navigation of the winding backroads to some Podunk town north of Eureka California, at one in the morning! Apparently all her other co-workers were smart enough not to answer their phones. Jerks.

Squinting Ellis spotted a flicker of light in the darkness up ahead. A blue and red beacon illuminated her way just as the GPS announced her arrival. KRAKOOM!

An arc of lighting briefly revealed the scene of a grisly car wreck barely teetering on top of the safety rail. An officer melted from the shadows and flagged her to stop. Ellis rolled the window down as he came over. His flashlight was so stark compared to the pitch surrounding them she couldn't put a face to the man talking to her. “Ma’am," the deep voice acknowledged, "I’m sorry this road is closed till we get a tow to clear the way. You’ll have to turn back and go around. Take the 255 to route 5 just to be safe. These town roads get mighty dangerous during storms.”

“Sorry, I’m right where I need to be I think. I’m Ellis Willsby a social worker with the state, I understand that you called about child services. Unfortunately at this hour I’m all they could find. Fortunately I am the more qualified of my peers. Do you mind if I get my ID,” Ellis asked, tentatively reaching for her purse on the seat beside her. The officer nodded so she pulled out her credentials and held them up for scrutinization, mindful of the rain.  “Alright, everything looks up to muster,” the man hummed, “thanks for coming as soon as you could I guess.”

“You’re welcome,” Ellis yawned, stuffing her ID's into her coat, before taking a step out into the biting rain, “But I still don’t understand what you needed a service worker for. My boss was hazy with details.”

“That’s probably because my Partner didn’t really give him much to go on because…well, you’ll see. It’s all kind of…odd,” the officer intoned walking back toward the wreck. Now Ellis had seen some pretty odd things in her line of work. Like a red headed child she'd swear could hear her thoughts, a homeless man with a bow and arrow who had chased someone down on the rooftops of LA, to a plucky preteen girl who could bench press four hundred pounds. So when Ellis drew nearer the more confused and stunned she became. At first she heard a man, presumably the officers partner, talking to someone up in a tree next to the crash. At least that’s what she thought. No sooner than ten feet from the wreck it became apparent that he wasn’t talking to the tree next to the car, but the tree in the car. What!?

Now it wasn’t wrapped around it, no the tree literally looked as if it had sprouted and grown over decades thru the middle of the vehicle. An impossibility for sure. Trees as mature as the one she was witnessing grew before cars were even invented and would've been chopped down to pave the current roadway. Which begged the question, how did a car end up halfway off a cliff with a tree stuck in it's middle, acquiring no damage to the sides or front? The only visible destruction she could make out was the hole in the windshield from impact. “How…?”

The young officer sent her a commiserating glance, “I know right. Boggles the mind. Wait till you get closer.”

Not sure what he meant by that, as things were already pretty strange, Ellis followed the officer. Hopefully the man’s partner could tell her more. Perhaps some actual answers. “Excuse me sir,” She interrupted with an outstretched handshake, “I’m Ellis Willsby, Social Worker. We were short on staff so they sent me. I apologize, but I’m not sure why you called?”

The Middle aged man stopped talking up to the sky to return the gesture, “Sorry about that. Wasn't really sure how to describe this without sounding crazy. Sheriff Peters, by the way. Now enough with the niceties. Lets get to it so we can all get out of this storm. The driver is DOA we assume, no seat belt, appears to have flown out the windshield and into the waters bellow, search and rescue are already on their way to confirm but we most likely won’t find a body. However that’s not why I called you in. If you look up, you’ll spot a kid, probably no more than four hiding in a knoll. Now, I've tried to go up and get them, but I swear ever time I do the hole moves farther up. I know what I sound like, but watch.”

Not waiting for a reply the Sheriff started his ascent slow and steady, careful to avoid a slip. Watching, Ellis could indeed make out the small form of a child curled in the tree, shivering from the wet and the cold. Just as Peters was a yard away from where he needed to be the hole shot further up the trunk. The social work could only stare in disbelief when the sheriff made his way back down. “How,” she asked the partner. “No idea,” he commiserated, “Peters best guess is the kid is somehow responsible. Maybe their a mutant that just came online or something. He thinks that if we can get the kid to feel safe they’ll come down on their own.”

A mutant. Well, that could explain things, but it also made them more complicated. People were still very prejudice against the minority and while they had phased out of the main stream media there were still hate groups dedicated to eradicating them, not that she got that vibe from the officers. Still, once they gave their reports, it was in all likely hood the child would be disappeared by some government agency. Ellis wouldn’t want to come down from that tree either.

“So,” Peters huffed, feet hitting the car roof, “Do you think you could coax the little one down. I hate for them to survive a car crash but catch their death from the elements.”

In all honesty Ellis had no idea if she could, between the storm raging and the violent seas bellow, the kid probably couldn’t even hear them. Still she had to try to gain the child’s attention. Wiping the water from her eyes she peered up at her target, “I’ll see what I can do. Perhaps if you two were to stand a little bit back, it’s possible they’re afraid of men.”

Following her advice the officers gave them some space, only they didn’t get to far. A soon as they had moved, and before she could talk, the tree let out a long pained groan. Everybody jumped, eyes snapping upward. Branches began to recede, bark began to shift and move, needles shrunk and turned to buds and disappeared. It was as if time was moving in reverse, causing the tree to de-grow and the hole hiding it’s prize moved farther and farther down the trunk.

In an instant, realizing the tree was the only thing keeping the car from going over, Ellis climbed up the vehicle as the tree rapidly receded into the ground. The woman grabbed the child the second she was within reach. Jumping backwards to safety, careful to cradle the kid, her back smacked against the pavement hard. And not a moment to soon either. Judging by the fact the little beater creaked and moaned and slid off the safety rail with a metallic screech over the side in an instant, disappearing into the darkness. The loud reverberation from it's fall rocked the cliff face.

“Holy hell,” Peters whispered staring at where the car had been. Clearing the shock from his head he ran over to help the groaning social worker shakily to her feet. “You got lighting reflexes there Mrs. Willsby.”

“You should see me play slap jack. And it’s Miss Willsby,” Ellis grimaced as she moved. That was definitely going to bruise tomorrow morning.

“Miss? Really. Hows a brave beautiful woman like you still unattached?”

Ellis raised an eyebrow at the comment. “Really, you’re going to flirt with me at the scene of an accident?”

“Well, where else am I going to meet women,” he smiled self deprecating, “People in our line of work don’t have much time for socializing.”

“Even if that’s true, now isn’t an appropriate time,” She gestured to the child in her arms, “Besides, I’m markless.”

While Ellis Willsby was never afraid to admit to being markless, and many civil rights had been secured for people like her, that one percent of the one percent who had no soul mate still held a societal stigma with the tittle; markless. People usually recoiled in either pity or revulsion at the mention. Most people still tended to not engage in personal relationships with markless, like it could some how be caught through sex like some cosmic STD. Which worked great when you wanted people to stop hitting on you. Though the Sheriff seemed to be the exception. His eyes only softened at the admission. “Me too.”

Ellis flushed, wether in embarrassment for assuming, anger at his continued attempt, or perhaps due to the slight feelings of attraction, it didn’t matter. There was a job to be done. A cough alerted them to the partner who shook his head in exasperation at Peters conduct, “Right, anyways, how’s the kid ma’am.”

Everyone studied the child lying limp and heavy in her arms. The only indication she was alive were the small shallow breaths that passed thru small blueish lips. Thick, gnarled, black hair clung to everything it could reach, including the faded pink dress the tot wore. Not that it covered much. It was clear the girl had out grown it a year ago, suggesting the parents either didn’t care or couldn’t afford to get her new clothing. However the alarming thing was, despite her lack of injuries, the girl was but skin and bones. The evidence being the ribs that dug into the social workers side. Stuff like this always broke Ellis’s heart. That someone so small should suffer in what little time they had known and no one had intervened…well Ellis wouldn’t stand for it.

Squaring her shoulders the woman gripped the child closer, trying to transfer some heat, “We need to get her out of the rain and to a hospital, she’s to cold for my liking. Not to mention she appears to have passed out from exhaustion. Might be why the tree disappeared.”

“Give me your keys, I’ll drive and will follow Wilson. Wilson radio dispatch, let them know what happened and where we’re going.”

“And what did happen?”

The Sheriff paused, looking back and fourth between the two adults, before his eyes settled onto the little girl. “Exactly what just happened. There was a car accident, the driver was thrown thru the windshield before the car plummeted over the edge and somehow the child, though hypothermic, was miraculously unharmed on the side of the road. And that’s all there is to say on the matter.”

Wilson nodded his head in understanding. No one needed to know the full truth. It would only end up taking one more life that night. The first was already tragic enough. 

Rushing into their cars Ellis handed over the keys to Peters before jumping into the passenger seat, cranking the heat full blast. “Thank you,” she murmured. Shifting the car into drive he glanced over at the poor kid. “No thanks necessary. I know what government overreach does to kids like her. The poor thing looks like she’s already been through enough. No need to add to her hardships.”

“Well thanks regardless. Still,” Ellis sighed tiredly, “I don’t know what to do with someone like her. I can’t put her in a group home or an orphanage. And to let someone like her be adopted or even sent into the foster system would just be negligence on my part. Its not as if I can subtle ask peoples stances on mutants. Might set off flags in the system.”

Which was true. There weren’t exactly homes looking specifically to accommodate mutant children, and the ones who were did so, did so to exploit them. There wasn't exactly a public database of people like her. While usually a boon, it was now a curse. What to do.

“Don’t worry,” Peters grinned, “I know a place in upstate New York made specifically for kids in her situation. The man who runs it is a very nice sort.”

“…tell me more.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Darcy Lewis never really fit in.

It was a sentiment that followed her from the moment of conception. She never fit into her mothers plans for life. Who’s hard partying ways resulted in a child out of soullock, since the party girl was to poor to afford an abortion, but not poor enough to get a hold of any drug she could; trying and failing to kill two birds with one needle. 

While most babies were born in safe controlled environments, she was born in some disease infested heroine den. Most infants in her situation would have horrible defects or be stillborn. Yet, instead of fitting in with the statistics of her environmental factors, Darcy remain stubbornly unaffected and healthy, if not a bit indignant. And the only reason Elizabeth Lewis didn’t leave her there to starve was entirely due to the fact that she met her soulmate in one doped up schizophrenic named Charles Bingley. He unintentional saved her life that night and would do so for as long as he could.

Now while they weren’t your normal nuclear household, and by no means lived conventionally, it worked for them. Going from warm and comfy in a crapy motel for a few days after a welfare check, to suddenly living in abandoned buildings till the next check came thru. Cause cash never lasted long when you fed an addiction. Despite all that, Darcy was kept relatively fed, clean, and clothed. Surprisingly for an unbalance dude, Charles cared for her really well. Kept her safe when they had to ruff it those few days a week. Kept her warm. Kept the drugs away from her tiny curious reach. Cause god knows Elizabeth hadn’t a maternal bone in her body. But more importantly, made sure she felt loved.

The unfortunate reality though, that people who live that kind of lifestyle, come with a certain expiration date. Charles OD a week before she turned three. And that’s when things really got bad. Not that Darcy remembered much, her laps due in part to her mother constantly drugging her to the gills to keep quite. Again, Darcy beat the odds. Somehow she survived that hazy year of hunger and pain, managing not to catch anything from the tips of used needles, but in the end it didn't matter. Life would take another serious turn for Darcy.

Desperate for cash, and jonesing for a fix, Elizabeth Lewis stole a car and raced down a dark winding road one stormy night. Where she was going to in such urgency no one ever found out, since dead women tell no tales.

Only reason Darcy survived the ordeal was due to some sort of power that safely ensconced her young self high up in a two hundred and thirty year old redwood. Her social worker theorized she had ended up there through mutant powers, which they assumed were hers. Except when Darcy was brought to some school in New York a man called Charles Xavier asserted she had no mutation. And came up with a theory himself about the nature of the phenomenon. That it must’ve come from her mother who, in an act of maternal instincts (yeah right), used her powers to save her child. While he felt for her plight, the School for Gifted Children was not the right fit for Darcy Lewis. Miss Willsby reluctantly put her in the system the next day.

After that, Darcy bounced around foster-care like the last level of Pong. Each with a different reason as to why she wasn’t a “fit” for them. The first family was because Darcy was to quiet (which screw them, what did they expect from a traumatized child). The next whined that Darcy was to “creepy”,  being able to remember things down to the detail. (Not her fault they had the attention span of gnats). After that they got progressively more annoying. Darcy was too smart for her age (Maybe they should pick up a book once in a while). Darcy took apart electronics trying to figure out how things worked (so what, she liked to learn). Darcy asked to many questions (maybe they should have had more answers). Darcy talks to much now (Oh, now that she invested in some self improvement it’s a problem). Darcy back talks (well maybe they shouldn’t be wrong). Darcy punched a boy for flipping her skirt (it was re-education to correct misogynistic behavior). She made a teacher cry (math is simplification not complication, teach it right or don’t teach at all). She made the other kids in her home cry (what, their real parents weren't coming back). Darcy thinks she knows more than her fifth grade teachers, (because she does). Darcy wrongly accused her foster father of sexual abuse, (She did not, and she had the hickey on her neck to prove it, not that his cop buddies ever believed her). And on and on the list went. But, it was the one she received on her fifteenth birthday that still to this day truly bothered her.

You see by your fifteenth year if you hadn’t received the first words your soulmate would say to you the chances of them randomly appearing afterwards were a hundred million to one. It was the reason her then current foster home left her on the doorsteps of child services like a flaming pile of dog shit. Apparently they were practitioners from the part of christianity that believed people like her, were agents of sin, soulmates only to the devil himself. Darcy is markless(…). That sentence followed her around till college.

It was at UC Berkely that a newly emancipated sixteen year old Darcy Lewis found her first semblance of acceptance. She found friends who liked that she was smart, that she was different, that she remembered things others forgot and didn’t care that she was markless. She finally fit in somewhere. In an amazing place called Academia. And she excelled…for a time. It wasn’t till she’d almost finished with her PhD in engineering with a masters in Math and a subsequent bachelors in computer sciences that everything inevitably changed. As life does.

Her sense of the world would forever be altered and she would later recall with 20/20 the warning signs she should have spotted.

The day before Darcy went to submit her thesis for review, her then best friend and roommate, Kyle Pierce stole her work and passed it off as his own. Devastated by the betrayal Darcy fought back like a vengeful valkyrie with blood soaked wings and brought the blatant plagiarism and theft to the attention of the thesis committee. Except things didn’t go as they rightly should’ve. On the day of her trial all the digital and hard copies of her work suddenly vanished. Without any proof, and being her word against his, coupled with the many character statements of her so called friends supporting Kyle’s testimony, it was strongly suggested she continue her schooling else where, if not get some sort of counseling.

Disheartened by the whole affair Darcy spent a year with the hacktivist’s known as the rising tide causing all sorts of trouble, only to realize she didn’t quite fit in with them either. Not everything should be public knowledge (like where agents were currently under deep cover). So she went back to college, only this time in something totally opposite to what she had previously almost finished majoring. Political Science at Culver University. (She only picked Culver due to the whole awesome Hulk rampage. Cause what other schools claim to fame is an actual mad scientist?)

After two long boring years (because while she loves arguing, she hates politics) something as mundane as a science credit changed her life for the weird if not slightly better. Darcy would bore people with the details but with the amount of NDA’s she had to sign, it wasn’t worth getting into. What she could tell people was that she got an internship, met a few interesting individuals, oh who was Darcy kidding she misspelled her name on all the forms just so she could legally be able to brag about what happened if asked really nicely (which was a total of four people since hardly anyone says please nowadays).

Darcy Lewis met her platonic soulmate in one Doctor Jane Foster (which she really wished was a thing cause it would totally be Janie) over a summer semester. Bonding over soulmark hardships, the lack thereof and crazy looking ones never before seen that apparently means she’s defective or the devil. It’s there in the sweltering heat of New Mexico that Darcy learns to love science once more; though she’s careful to never let her full intelligence show, scared she might repeat history. 

Even though Jane didn’t seem the sort to steal from her, but then again neither had Kyle, she decided playing it cool was the better bet till her trust in humanity was restored (hey, stranger things have been know to happen). Just to be on the safe side, one really drunk night after many many shots of tequila, a wasted Darcy may have hacked into her academic record, and erased all traces of her having gone to UC Berkely (since Darcy was never going to finish or use those degrees ever, why let people use it against her). Which was probably a good thing since SHIELD got involved not long after, snooping around when a certain blonde Asgardian showed up to the party. And wow, did Jane win big time in the soulmate department or what. But she was getting ahead of herself.

Now Doctor Erik Selvig was like the father Darcy had always wanted, even though at first he didn’t give her much thought. But once they bonded (over tequila because tequila solves everything) he was a constant balm to her frazzled nerves (“God dammit Jane eat a sandwich, science later!” “I’ll eat when I’m dead!” “That doesn’t even make sense!”). But more importantly he never disregarded her opinions because she was just a soft science major (if only he knew). 

So, after Loki’s robot sized temper tantrum, cause no one told him he was adopted (and whoever thought that was a good idea should die and reincarnate as a foster kid to educate themselves on why that was wrong), SHIELD left and with them so did Thor. The year that followed his absence Darcy would forever refer to as the year that must not be talked about lest ye make Jane cry again. It was dark times. Dark times. Filled with moments of awesome sciencing. Followed by Erik leaving to science with another (that filthy whore). Then when things started to calm down a hellmouth opened over New York releasing darkspawn and space whales upon the city, while they realized they’d been tricked into witness protection by shield in Tromsø. Thor left, yet again, didn’t even text or tweet them a “and I’m back, from outer space, I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face”. 

Jane cried again, then got angry, then got depressed, then angry again, then threw herself into science single-mindedly (forgetting to shower, change clothes, eat, and coaxing her into doing so deserved a Nobel prize in scientist wrangling cause that shit is hard on a good day let alone a my-soulmate-left-me-day). Who needed soulmates when you had science, and apparently tinder. Because when it looked like Jane was moving on with her love life the Keebler elves from space hell had to go and fuck it all up. Stupid elves.

On the plus side, Thor came back. To stay this time. Apparently almost losing his soulmate to freaky space magic put things in perspective. And while Jane was able to forgive him after the whole London Debacle it took Darcy a whole week of him moping, binge eating strawberry pop tarts and seeking to make reparations before she caved (all it took was a magic hammer flight around England to make things square, cause if Jane was happy Darcy wasn’t about to ruin it but would milk it). So all in all things were good. Great even. Then Tony.

Apparently, once someone gets crazy banana’s rich they start collecting people cause money suddenly has no real value (well duh, Darcy could have told you that, all it would take is one computer virus to send us spiraling into a post-apocalyptic hellscape). So they moved to Stark towers after an intense negotiation (he basically told them they had an unlimited budget and retained full academic rights to their discoveries and Jane was already packed). Of course they never really got to meet the full Avengers team cause wouldn't you know it five months later the band split up. And somehow Tony retained custody of Jane in the epic divorce, which meant he got Thor whenever he came back from his trip home, and subsequently by default, Darcy.

Which all culminated into Darcy’s life till now. It had been a good six months of science and mayhem with the three scienckateers if not a bit tense (Bruce went MIA a few weeks before the break-up to end all break-ups and would probably stay that way with the accords so Tony was sulking). In the past few months Darcy had been more and more left out. It was obvious a week in that Jane no longer needed an intern since she had been provided a whole army of science assistants (more like minions). And Darcy, poor poor Darcy, didn’t meet the requirements to be one of those assistants (cause she deleted her degrees dammit). Yet she still hung around, Jane was her friend, her best friend, so Darcy would stay till she was told other wise. Besides, Jane and the Science bro’s (now Bro) weren’t going to feed themselves, so Darcy was at least helpful in one aspect the assistants weren’t. Still, as time went on, she kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like it always had.

Maybe it was a self fulfilling prophecy, maybe Darcy was just prophetic, or maybe she was the universes favorite show and ratings were only good when things were bad. Who knows. But as she reported down to the head of human resources, P. Roy Mulligan, who emailed her about an issue of how she fit into the company, she couldn't help but feel a ball of tension that had been building up since day one quiver in her gut. It was probably nothing right?

 

Chapter Text

“Miss Lewis, have a seat.”

Said seat looked highly uncomfortable. It was to low to the floor, designed in some sort of monstrous puke green fabric, and smelled slightly of a musk she didn’t want or have time to pin point. So no, Darcy would not be getting in that...thing. She'd bet her s'mores poptarts (the rarest and most prized of poptarts) the reason he had those chairs had nothing to do with a terrible taste in furniture, but because he read some generic instruction booklet on business power moves and decided to be that guy. Yeah right, Darcy wouldn't be playing into that boy's club bullshit. 

“Naw, I’ll stand. It burns more calories than sitting you know. Have to keep this figure somehow, right?!”

Darcy’s poor attempt at self deprecating humor didn’t so much as crack a smile out of the corporate stooge. She didn't blame him, it wasn't her best, but she was to nervous to produce her best. If anything all it did was draw a disdainful and critical eye to her top dollar thrift store apparel and knit wear. Apparently P. Roy Mulligan didn’t appreciate the finer things in life. Like being able to afford food by not spending it on trendy clothes she didn’t really need.

“Yes,” Mulligan snorted, “I’m sure a diet of coffee and take-out does wonders.”

“I’m sorry,” Darcy bristled taking step forward, “are you implying something?”

“You women, always taking things out of context and looking for hidden meaning where it’s not,” he condescendingly tittered, taking a step back, “I was saying you looked…nice.

“Excuse me!”

“You’re excused,” Mulligan dismissed moving behind his desk, “now, if you’re done wasting time, I’d like to get into why I’ve called you into my office today. Recently I did an audit for your department which yielded some discrepancies that caught my attention. Like did you know, that you’re currently not an employee?”

“If you think you can distract me from your sexist-wait, I’m sorry, what,” Darcy abruptly stuttered. Did he just say what she thought he said. No, because that’s crazy. That can’t be right. She signed all the paperwork and everything back in London. She even signed it for realsies, not fakesies like with SHEILDRA. Although that might be why payroll had been giving her the runabout lately.

“There must be an error. I signed all the contracts given to me by Pepper Pott’s herself. You’re mistaken.”

“No, you signed an internship form, not an employment form. And company police is that all internships must be resubmitted for renewal by their immediate superior every three months. As off…,” he trailed off peering at his computer screen, “nine weeks ago, you’re internship ended. So color me surprised to learn that not only are you still here and somehow able to access sensitive R&D departments, but you’re also occupying free employee housing.”

“Now wait just a minute-Jane forgets things sometimes-there must be some sort of-”

“Afraid not. I triple checked and quadruple checked everything to make sure I didn’t miss any misfiling. Everything's up to par.”

“Wait-wait-wait, just let me talk to Tony or Pepper and we’ll get this sorted out,” Darcy panicked. This can’t be happening. It had to be a joke. One of Tony’s really bad practical jokes. Darcy had read the hiring contract cover to cover, there was no mention of any rehiring policy for interns. Not even in the company guidelines. “There wasn’t a policy-”

“I’m sorry, I can’t just bother the heads of Stark industries with lowly personnel matter. You’ll have to schedule an appointment with their secretaries, though it may be hard to gain an audience, but please, keep trying. I’m sure you’ll sort everything out in no time,” P. Roy Mulligan waved off her concern, “In the meantime, I’m sure you understand that I’ll have to ask you to leave the premises. Any property currently in your apartment will have to be rigorously screened by security to make sure that during this error you were not in fact stealing company secrets. You’ll be allowed to collect your things in three to ten business days. Now, if you’ll see yourself out.”

“No. You can’t just throw me out. Listen if you’ll just let me look at my personnel file I’m sure I can find out where the problem occurred,” Darcy asserted walking around the desk to grab the keyboard. Only Mulligan shot out of his chair across the room to the doors as soon as she got close. Darcy stopped at his slightly panicked dash. It was…odd.

“That’s it I’m calling security,” he growled opening his door a touch, “Olivia, be a dear and call Stanton and Croydon for me would you. Miss Lewis had over stayed her welcome.”

Not bothering for a reply he slammed it shut and blocked any access out. Darcy blinked not understanding the huge shift in demeanor. Was she that threatening? Maybe a little menacing, but threatening? No way.

She was going to remediate the situation, with a witty comment or disarming self deprecating turn of phrase, when the name plaque on his desk caught her attention. A name plaque, until now, she hadn’t even realized faced the wrong way to face his chair. But now being able to see it in fancy sans serif font, Pelethites Roy Mulligan, a picture formed. Especially when her eyes darted to his screen with her open personnel file. Her ID smiled back at her along with a confidential background check only security was allowed access. Except one window in particular stood out more than the rest. It was a list of all her foster families. His avoidance of touching her suddenly made sense.

Darcy inhaled sharply, “You! Oh my god I remember you. You’re from that Marksist family! You people made that year hell for me! Every foster home I got put in you people harassed till they sent me back. Every high school I attended you made sure the students knew I didn’t have a soulmate so they’d bully me. Every time I’d so much as set foot outside you pelt rocks at me to excise a demon that wasn’t there! I bet there isn’t even a problem with my employment!”

Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap! This had to be some sort of nightmare, or gas induced hallucination, or something. Cause the odds for this sort of thing were to infinitesimal. This can’t be happening to her. Darcy thought she put all that hateful bullshit behind her. So how can it be staring her in the face, from such a high corporate position, in a very media hounded company, in a day and age where such Markism existed only in backwater third world countries and small parts of Georgia? It didn’t compute. How did he even get past the hiring screening process!?

Assuming her silence as being finished, and not a build up to the verbal beat down of the century, the biblically named Pelethites took it as his turn to speak. The gigantic misogynistic dickwad. “You’re wrong. There is a problem in the system,” he smirked, a smug sort of glee taking up his narrow face, “I put it there. I never processed your intern contract. Imagine my surprise when it came across my desk in the first place. To know that the same filthy sinful markless hellspawn who disappeared all those years ago was actually working here. That they’d let someone like you even in! Well, as a faithful Christian man, it could only be a message from god to fix this injustice. So I threw it away.”

“You-you can’t do this! You bastard! If you think-,” before Darcy could finish two security officers barged into the room in a flurry of grunts and testosterone. Ah, crap. Darcy recognized the two muscle jockeys. They were guards she had seen around before, but never really talked to past the normal “here’s my ID”. Mainly because they were the sort of bullies always picking on the weakest interns in the building. Taking their food, bumping into them so their stuff fell to the floor, locking them in closets, you know, juvenile high school stuff. Darcy had reported them the moment they pulled that shit in front of her. Clearly no one had done anything. Now she wondered if people like Mulligan had protected them from consequence, causing them to feel beholden to him and thus easier to manipulate. Well...there went that avenue of help.

Pelethites scowled, “And what kind of time was that. I called you up here a minute ago, I expect expedience, what if she had harmed me. I could be dead right now. Do your jobs and remove her from the premises.”

“Wait, wait,” Darcy exclaimed trying to outmaneuver the guards descending upon her, “You can’t do this. Hey, don’t touch me! Hands off the goods! Hey, watch where you’re holding!”

Unfortunately, while Darcy could outmaneuver most computer hacks, chess plays, and escaping scientist refusing to sleep, she wasn’t exactly agile or kickass like the Black Widow. So there was no way for her to a.) avoid the security men or b.) get out of the hold they had on each of her arms they used to haul her away. Struggle as she might, Darcy was not going to be able to pull some awesome spy move to turn this around and escape. However, as they carried her past the gossipy employees in human resources she did have one thing they didn’t. A brain.

Nearing the elevators Darcy shouted at the ceiling. “Friday. Friday! I need you to call Tony! Call Tony and tell him whats going on! Friday! Hey, bring us up to Jane. Wait don’t go down-”

The doors shutting cut off anyone from hearing the rest of what she had to say. Though her outburst had everyone in a titter. Some shaking their heads in pity, others laughing at her misfortune. Mr. Mulligan’s assistant blinked. “Who is she talking to?”

“No Idea,” Mulligan cleared his throat, “Clearly she was disturbed. I’ve been getting complaints all month.”

The lie easily slipped past his lips like communion wine. Hopefully his department would think she was just another science nerd that lost their mind under pressure and not ask to many questions. For now he’d return to his office and try to see if he could nix the rumor mill, didn’t need what he had done to get back to any of her doctor friends. Not that they’d notice their hands before their face as wrapped up in their science experiments as they were.

“Oh! And Olivia,” he quickly added, poking his head back out, “please make sure security removes the SIM from her phone once it’s been scanned during exit procedure.”

“Of course sir. Will there be anything else?” 

He paused and smiled getting an idea.“Yes, call legal for me. Miss Lewis was very disgruntled. Accusing me of the most outlandish things, I think it would be safe for everyone if there was a restraining order on her for the building. Perhaps one for her immediate superiors as well. I’d hate for them to get distracted with company matters. They have important discoveries to make that fund our salaries after all.”

“Right away sir.”

Chapter Text

Darcy Lewis was a seething mess stalking down the unsympathetic streets of New York city daring anyone, just anyone, to say something negative or sexist about her appearance one more time. She didn’t care how much bigger they were to her, she was gonna lay a bitch out flat. That’s how pissed she was. So pissed she could care less about self-preservation!

After that mornings fiasco, and FRIDAY’s lack of help (Darcy thought they were bro’s), tweedle dumb and tweedle dumber kept her for over two hours in the most humiliating exit review of existence. Even going so far as to pat her down at the end, just to make sure she wasn’t stealing any Stark property. After which, they made a big show of parading her out the Lobby. 

To make matters worse they stole her phone. Claiming it “needed to be cleared with Security tech analysts for corporate espionage stuff”. Yeah, cooperate espionage Stuff! Cause that sounded so legit. And in a moment of idiocy (cause they were way stronger than her and armed) Darcy tried to wrestle it back. Wrong move.

They pushed her away easily enough. The resulting force led her to smacking into some poor intern carrying a tray of smoothies. Which proceeded to paint Darcy a kaleidoscope of rainbow sludge.

So wet, angry, humiliated, barred from the building and lacking a phone, or any money for that matter since her purse was still in the science lab where she left it, Darcy planted herself  on the sidewalk directly in front of the entrance. If they thought she’d just leave they didn’t know Darcy. She could wait for as long as it took (with appropriate bathroom breaks), till someone she knew left or entered the building to help fix this (and deliver her sweet sweet revenge). 

Standing there for six hours, where people snickered at her appearance and gawked, Darcy was not idle in her temporary exile. Oh, no. To everyone that passed by she asked if she could borrow a phone. Either jaded by city life or wary of her intentions, people either walked past like they didn’t hear or told her to fuck off. Still, she continued on. All the brunette needed was one yes. Not that it mattered.

Eventually a civil servant came and served her papers for a restraining order. A restraining order!!  She wasn’t allowed within a half mile of Stark Tower let alone within five hundred feet of Jane, Vision, Colonel Rhodes, Pepper, or Tony. And contacting them would result in a minimum sentence of two years in jail (which ouch, harsh). Apparently her old foster brother wasn’t as dumb as she previously believed.

So as the sun set on seventh avenue, and the nightlife began to crawl out of their nine to five lives, her walk illuminated certain truths. Darcy was playing by the rules in a game where her opponent was not, letting societal mores dictate her moves. Now though, now the intern mask was off. In it’s place was one she’d abandoned after that dark year in between UC Berkley and Culver. The hacktivist gloves were on. This would be the last time an extremist group would ruin her life, dictate how she would lived, where she could live, how she was to interact with the world. But first things first, she needed some internet.

Jefferson Market Library was supposed to be on sixth, at least thats what the nice homeless man panhandling on Greenwich Ave told her, so Darcy headed there. With free internet service and a computer she would show Mulligan how much of a Satan’s bride she could be by raining cyber hell down upon him. Perhaps to start things off, a member of the rising tide might make a certain Head of Human resources political and religious affiliations known to the public? Then maybe his credit cards get over drafted filling his order for BDSM equipment, weird fetish DVD’s and extra large dildo’s he wanted sent to his office. Perhaps an ad on craigslist would pop up for his home address with a job doing demo work. Perhaps next, all his utility bills suddenly read out as unpaid in the system. Then it’s possible, in this unsafe digital age, his identity and that of his fellow cult members (cause that’s what they were) made their way onto the darknet for unscrupulous individuals to play with. And that was just the stuff Darcy could do in the first five minutes of logging on. The library didn't close till eight. It was currently about six thirty. Mulligan was about to find out what happened when you poke and humiliate the wrong sleeping monster with a restraining order.

Darcy, so wired just thinking about it, could hardly hear anything over the ringing echoing in her ears. Actually, now that she noticed, everything around her seemed to have acquired a slight echo like quality. As if what she was seeing around her didn’t quite match up to reality. Blue eyes suddenly blinked, focusing intensely, while the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. 

Darcy stopped, scrutinizing everything at the sudden feeling of wrongness that seized her, looking for any differences or tells that could account for the feeling. Being around Jane, and subsequently half of the avengers, long enough had raised her awareness, instilling a healthy sense of paranoia. She was just having a hard time pin pointing what the actual problem was. Everything appeared normal. People walked past Darcy like no one else existed, cars honked and edged around each other in small victories and losses on the battle front called New York traffic, and yet nothing stood out as menacing. Nothing warranted her unease.

No one was watching her just a little to closely, camera’s weren’t following her, people weren’t trailing her, no suspicious vehicles were either, in fact no one was paying her any sort of attention. Which might have been the problem altogether. 

Darcy knew the saying went that New Yorkers had seen everything (especially within the past few years), but human nature still took precedent. The brain was hard wired to stare at something new for at least eight seconds to file away it way. That’s why we can’t help but try to sneak a peak at those with blatant physical differences to ourselves (Darcy was a firm believer of getting it out of your system then getting on with your life, cause it’s disingenuous otherwise). 

So what changed?She still had that god awful stain down the front of her white Gin Wigmore band t-shirt. Hell, her bra color and ta ta’s were even peeking thru! it’s why people had been staring all day. So why not now? What happened to the rude cat calls? The unhelpful comments? The ogling? Something wasn’t right. But looking around wasn’t helping and worrying about it wasn’t either. She’d just have to put a pin in it till it upgraded to a problem. Right now it was just..strange.

Making up her mind, the brunette pushed through the wrongness, revisiting her first mission objective; get to the Library. Although Darcy didn’t travel much farther than ten feet when a large man ran past and knocked her over. With her luck the way it had been going the ex intern ended up landing onto a pile of trash bags. Soon though, her unfortunate luck would be turning into his as well, since Darcy decided in that moment the rude man, who didn’t even apologize, had just volunteered himself for a punch in the face, if not a verbal bitch down. Easier said than done. 

The man in the red and black robes was already leagues ahead weaving in and out of foot traffic. Wait, robes? Curious about her drive by pusher Darcy endeavored to keep him within sight as she fell into pursuit. Which wasn’t easy, the man was very nimble for his size (and no he was not fat, just healthily husky). Catching up was hell on her back (you try carrying two hams on your chest and see how you do). Especially with the way he rounded corners, alley’s and backstreets so sharply. Always just disappearing for a few moments before her eyes caught the tail end of his robe. 

Somewhere in the back of Darcy’s mind the voice of reason and paranoia were trying to point out it was odd to see a man wearing that type of apparel in the Village just when her intern senses were tingling, but anger firmly told them both to suck it. Those instincts might have won, as she was about out of breath and ready to throwing in the towel, when the man suddenly swerved and entered a palatial second empire estate.

Now a normal person would have rethought their next course of action. Big old fancy estate equals big old fancy amounts of money. Money you didn’t want to assault. Which means they wouldn’t climb up those marble steps and knock angrily on the door. Which means when someone doesn’t answer right away they do not then proceed to kick said expensive one of a kind looking door. Nor do they make a scene in which they cuss said occupant out, despite their absence. And they do not, at the moment the door creaks open, blindingly punch whom ever answers it. They just don’t. Unless said person is mind numbingly pissed and unintentionally looking for an outlet and that persons name was Darcy Lewis.

Cause the second that ancient door opened Darcy loosed the mother of all swings to end all swings. To which people can mail their complaints to Clint Barton, PO box 2995 West Virginia 01028, for perfecting her form (after she reflexively hit him when he dropped out of a vent one time and got weirdly proud about it). Only the tall angled bone structure Darcy hit had high cheek bones, cupid bow lips and a pale complexion, not to mention he wore a different set of mortal combat like robes and-oh god Darcy hit the wrong man! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!

“Oh my god-I’m so sorry-I didn’t mean to hit you-well I did-well I didn’t-well I mean-you were supposed be someone else-wait no-I should ask if you’re ok-are you okay-no wait stupid question-you see the other guy he-no right not important-oh god don’t send me to prison-I,” Darcy blurted out rapid secession. Instead of a reply the dark haired man promptly fell back to the floor with a loud noise. The brunette cringed with sympathy. 

Foot steps approached from the right before stopping at the scene in the entryway. “Doctor Strange I heard a-“ brown eyes suddenly connect with blue over the unconscious form, “You!”

“You,” Darcy shouted back, “Aha! You recognize me which means you know you rudely shoved me aside! And this isn’t what-”

Before she had a chance to process anything a flash of red flew at her while her true target just started making hand signs at her. With a yelp, the red enveloped her with boa constrictor like strength, blocking her sight, as she uselessly struggled against the unknown force. 

Yeah. Know one ever said Darcy was a genius tactistician.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Now Darcy liked to believe that bad things always came in threes. She knew it was hypocritical to believe in such malarky when her flag was firmly planted in the realm of science and reality. Yet, when someone (Tony) would send out bad juju into the universe saying the words that must-never-be-spoken (“what could possibly go wrong” or “what’s the worst that could happen”) Darcy would rush to the nearest wooden object and knock on it. And yes, she knew it was silly, but everyone has that one superstition they believed or practiced no matter what (lookin’ at you  sports fans). Still, while she believed in the big bad threes, events never tended to follow that pattern for her.

Take today for example, if things were about threes Darcy’s bad fortune would have ended with her forced expulsion from Stark towers (which we know did not happen). And on the flip side of that superstition something good would happen to counter balance the bad right afterwards (again, never happened). Which led to Darcy’s current predicament of waking up tied to a chair with very little recollection of how she ended up there, which was on par with Darcy’s luck.

Last thing she recalled was the mass of redness attacking her and the rude man throwing glowing gang signs at her and-Oh damnit that guy must have been a mutant. Only her luck. Of course she picked a fight with someone who had some sort of mind fuckery mutation. Great. And with no one available to come rescue her, or even aware she wasn’t even in the tower, it was likely Darcy would have to save herself (and though she was a firm believer in self rescuing princesses there was only so much Darcy could do against mind fuckery). 

This isn’t going to end well, Darcy thought to herself. It was never a good sign when your attackers tied you down but didn’t blind fold you. It usually meant they had no intention of keeping you alive, but considering she had already seen there faces, coupled with the mind voodoo, Lewis was slightly optimistic and gambling on a different outcome. After all, she’d rather be missing a few hours of her life then say the rest of it.

Discreetly, Darcy took in her surroundings for escape options. It was a pretty spacious room, with weird eclectic bits and bobs decorating the walls, interspersed with ancient antiques occupying museum cases uniformly alined in some pattern or other. Which led her eye to some pretty nasty looking axes adjacent from her. Hmm. Perhaps she could chair hop over (not likely as the ornate thing felt like it was made from solid gold), knock one off the wall, and into her ropes. Except, while she could calculate the trajectory and the math involved to make that happen, with her day Darcy was more likely to chop of her hand in the process and she needed those (they were her coffee holders)! She’d reevaluate that choice later if she became really desperate (ie. her captors became rapey looking).

However, before she could make any more mental cataloging of potential rescue items, a sudden sparking from the air fifteen feet before her intercepted any thought but, What the fuck is that? 

The sparking formed quickly into a circle, like someone was welding through an invisible wall, before opening in the blink of an eye to another room where one of her captors came stepping out from. Darcy stared in quiet shock as it just as suddenly disappeared. Oh, she was screwed. What kind of mind fuckery was that?

The mutant she had meant to bring the smack down on took a step forward and began to circle her like prey. “You are either a distraction or a very dumb henchmen,” he stated, “None have so boldly walked into the Sanctum with such little training. It makes me wonder why you are here? If your people think us so weak after the destruction of the London Sanctum that they would send you to defeat us then more are surely to follow. So tell me, who do you work for?”

“No one,” Darcy blurted out without meaning to. She blinked in confusion, dammit, the mind fuckery had begun cause she hadn’t meant to say a word. The asian mutant however only looked mildly impressed by her answer, “Ah, you have some skill in magical resistance then. But it won’t last long, the enchantment on the throne of fheudar fhìrinn won’t allow for lies. The more you resist the more life force it will drain.”

Calmly, as if anything he said made a lick of sense to Darcy, he leaned down to glare at her, “Who do you work for? Are you a zealot of Dormammu? An agent of Mephisto? A Crusader? A worshiper of the old ones?

“Wait, wait, wait,” Darcy back tracked as her brain finally caught up with something that had been said, “back up, back up, drains? What to you mean it drains life force? Are we talking like vampires or some Dark Elf aether roofie or what? What-“

Darcy was immediately answered when some internal force raked across her nerve endings, arcing like a live wire from within her body outward. It felt like a million tiny mouths were bitting her, when there was in fact nothing of the sort. All her blood was still where it should be and yet she was growing tired like she was bleeding out from her imaginary wounds. What the hell was he doing to her.

“Just answer the question,” he repeated, “who do you work for?”

“No one,” Darcy gritted out with a scream, “No one, really!  No one! Now stop this thing please. I’m telling the truth. I don’t work for anyone! I just got fired today! The only reason I’m here is because your pushing me into the garbage was the last straw on a very long list of shit that was thrown my way, alright! I have no idea what your talking about or even what’s going on or even how you’re doing this? What the hell is even an old one!?”

The man stared at the gem at the top of the chair with increasing concern during her rant, or what Darcy assumed was concern as his facial expressions weren’t exactly a telenovela, “… You speak the truth…”

“…Yeah listen, if we could just forgo the torture and stuff and let me leave, I’ll forget all about this with seven-no-eight rounds of five dollar tequilas. Promise. I’ll even pinky swear-“

BANG! The door to the room slammed with great force as her earlier unintentional victim stormed into the really horrible BDSM party no one planned for. A nice shiner already beginning to form on his unfortunately handsome face (Darcy really hated it when the bad guys were good looking, it wasn’t fair), red cape flowing wildly behind him. And by flowing she meant it was flying by its lonesome like a duckling after it’s mother in the air. At this point Darcy was begging to believe she had been dosed with hallucinogenics. Or at least she hoped she had because life was already weird enough without flying clothes and portal ripoffs.

“You,” the enraged man growled stalking forth, “What sort of binding spell is this? If you don’t remove it at once I will be forced to consult my library where I will find some truly painful way to remove it at your expense.”

“Binding spell?! Okay that’s it, are you people just some really serious LARPers or something cause-Ow motherfucker! Did you just burn me-Fuck! Who goes around burning people on the back,” Darcy howled, struggling against her bindings. Hadn’t she been subject to enough today. That’s it, Darcy thought, I must have been a terrible person in a past life, like 1920’s version of Donald Trump, to deserve all this bad luck.

“Binding spell,” the man in red robes repeated, “what binding spell?”

The taller man snarled and violently pulled up his sleeve to show his accomplice, “This one!”

“That is not a binding spell Strange,” the asian man intoned, fingers lightly tracing the markings before him. 

“Then what is it?”

“A soul mark. Obviously.”

“Bullshit,” Darcy and blue robed man exclaimed at once, before glaring at each other for the synchronicity. He cleared his throat, returning his attention towards his friend, “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I was born markless. Thus, I have no mark Wong. So it must be something else.”

“Same here pedestrian pusher,” the brunette added, giving Wong her best “Bitch you dumb if you think I’m drinking the koolaide" face. She was past the age when they suddenly appeared and wouldn’t be tricked like Ann Lee from her sophomore year, when her classmates gave her a tattoo one drunken party and convinced her it was a soul mark when the girl was sober the next morning.

Wong sighed with great pain, pinching the bridge of his nose choosing to ignore her. “Did you not read the text given to you about soulmates at Karmar-Taj?”

“I found it holy unnecessary as I didn’t have one, get to the point Wong.”

“It explains,” he lectured, “that markless are those with magical potential that already posses a small amount within them. Like a storage container. Whether through evolution or by design, those who are markless only remain so until the first words from their soulmate are utter to them. It’s most likely your words just appeared on her back. Do you understand Stephen?”

“That makes no sense. Why do the marks only appear after the first meeting. Why not during adolescence like everyone else.”

“So other worlders or creatures of a malevolent nature cannot trace the inherent magic back through the soulmark to that persons destined mate and use them as leverage. Or, as in most cases, it was protection for the sorcerers of old, who were often hunted down and drained of there magic. And through there soulmarks so to were there soulmates.”

The room was engulfed in silence after Wong laid that heavy stuff before their feet. On the one hand, magic real or not real. Darcy wasn’t sure if that had even been a question, but it was now. The second, if possible, if she believed or could wrap her head around what was in the first hand, she had a soulmate. A soulmate. Something little Darcy had cried into her pillow about not having that one person that would be just for her as she was just for them. Something she spent many a tear on every night till she learned there were more real things to cry about than things she’d never have. Someone that would fit into her soggy jagged puzzle piece where few ever would. Someplace she was destined to belong no matter what. And he literally took one look at her from head to toe, flared his nostrils, and spun back around the way he came in.

“I don’t have time for this, I have a date with Christine Palmer,” Stephen waved back, “Wong, take care of this.”

And, even if she didn’t quite believe what Wong had said to be true, a little part of Darcy shattered at the rejection. Of course. Even a fake soulmate wouldn’t want her.

She really must have been terrible in her past life.

Chapter Text

 

“So he’s kind of an asshole.”

Darcy Lewis, stater of the obvious and killer of awkward silences since 1994,  announced to the room. She couldn’t help but blurt that shining tidbit out the minute her supposed “soulmate” left in a huff of red sulky fabric. His cape was definitely more emotive than Thor’s thats for sure. 

“That, asshole,” Wong’s sharp gaze cut toward her, “sacrificed to save the world. Take care how you speak of him.”

“Yeah?! So did Tony Stark. Doesn’t mean he’s not an asshole,” Darcy shrugged. Being a super hero did not preclude one to being a nice person. In fact all superheroes, at least the ones Darcy met, rated somewhere on the asshole scale. Everyone just had differing levels that changed day to day. Like Captain America not being upfront with Stark about Hydra’s involvement in his parents death, rates a level nine. Or Tony Stark not being able to forgive one assassin for doing something while brain washed but could another assassin, rated a level eight. (His rating was less cause one killed his parents while the other only tried to kill him personally so Darcy could give Stark a certain amount of emotional leeway on that front, but still it had been months and he had yet to make any effort toward any sort of recovery process at the revelation). Now, Darcy, tracking a man down to punch him, rated a four at best. Which she still hadn’t gotten to do but she was going to be the better person and let it go. For now. Darcy reserved the right to revisit her decision later if he got obstinate about her next course of action.

 “Listen I can see I’ve overstayed my welcome,” the brunette flippantly stated making her way to what she assumed led to an exit, “so I’ll just head on out. I made some mistakes, you’ve clearly made some mistakes, how bout we call this a wash and forget we ever met. Bygones be bygones. Even Steven. Etcetera, etcetera.”

“No,” came the clipped response. Prompt, succinct, efficient, without any sort of elaboration or emotional nuance to go off of. Darcy had no idea if he was saying, No, stay, have some tea first before you go, or No, because now I need to get rid of your body in a barrel of acid I keep for just such an occasion. Context was everything. And he was giving her bubkiss.

“No? Just no. Ok, care to elaborate or just…,” Darcy trailed off waiting for him to fill in the blank. Which got her nothing but the same plain look as before, just with an added arm cross that said you shall not pass. Not that she could get past him blocking the way and all. “Yeah ok, not the talkative type I can respect that. See, it’s just there’s this thing I was on my way to doing before you knocked me off track and I’d very much like to get back to it sooo….”

Again she got nothing. Not a frown or an eye twitch. Nothing. Was he ex CIA or something? The mans face was a steel fortress. She didn’t get so much as a facial tic from him. Hell, for all she knew he could have been the one to train the black widow in non-expressions or some such nonsense.  So while Wong just stared at her with his fathomless eyes, Darcy only hoped he wasn't looking into her soul or anything as intimate. Cause that would be rude. They only just met. That’s like second date kind of stuff.

Seeing she wasn’t getting anywhere with him Darcy changed her strategy. “Not gonna budge? Okay, do you have a computer I can borrow then? Don’t give me that look,” she scowled at his eyebrow raise (ha, finally progress), “who am I gonna tell about this place anyways. Geez. So untrusting. Listen, I get you don’t like talking but you did torture me and the whole iconic, harry, your a wizard, moment aside, I think I’m kinda owed some restitution for the whole ordeal. Hey! Don’t give me that face. A lot of this is your fault buddy, so either find me a computer or I’ll just keep talking and talking and talking. And let me tell you if there’s one thing I’m good at it’s talking-”  

The Asian man pushed then door behind him open before walking thru it. Darcy grinned and trailed after him, “see, now was that so hard?”

There was no response but it wasn’t like she was expecting one. He brought them out to what must have been the second floor of the front foyer, right onto some grand staircase. Place had a lot of old money New York class, like late 1800’s architecture with big domed painted ceilings and dark marble everything. It even had pillars! Darcy whistled in appreciation of all the swankiness.  

Hearing another door open, she pivoted to find her “captor” walking down an elegant hallway. The thought of running for the front door (it was right there people) came and left just as quickly. The man had powers, she probably wouldn’t make it, magic or not. Plus, Darcy wasn’t in the mood for round two on the fancy vampire chair of truth. Hard pass. Zero stars. Would recommend to Mulligan though.

Taking a left, a right, another left, up, then a round about they arrived at one of those Chinese dog statues Darcy always thought looked more like a lion. He pressed certain glyphs on the sphere a paw was standing on before the wall slid away like it was straight from a scene from some badass spy movie. So cool. Darcy was adding it to her Christmas list to give santa Tony (he’d probably get it for her too, he’s awesome like that).

The room turned out to be a wealthy mans extravagant study/library. In the middle of the circular room (which btw had four floors) sat a stately desk with one MacBook computer. Darcy could work with that.

Not even bothering to look at the holographic globe spinning above her with strange symbols and ley lines (cause she just couldn’t right now or she’d never get back on point), the reawakened hacktavist scurried over to the plush leather chair and got to work. Tap tap here and a tap tap there of a few keys had her bypassing someones abysmal password and free to plunge into the darknet. Popping up networks for old squirreled away coding and malware Darcy had already broken into P.Roy Mulligans social media accounts and email in rapid order (if she wanted simultaneously she’d need another computer). From there she could get everything else. A few particularly embarrassing photos suddenly made themselves public on his profiles to which she cackled as she then sent the man the mother of all porn viruses to his work computer that wouldn’t let him shut his screen off from the down right filthy shit she was sending his way unless he literally pulled the plug and even then, the computer was ruined. They’d have to scrap the whole thing as it’d pick up where it left off. She called it pornªg8d⍬n.

 While she was filling out his sex toy order, and expedited it maxing out his exorbitant business card, the mad brunette felt the presence of a lurker over head. “Come on, give a girl some privacy,” she growled at her silent warden, without taking her eyes from her work, “Alright, you can go now. See yah. Bye. Arg, fine do what you want, see if I care.”

 


 

 

Ping! Ping!

Stephen Strange paused for the eighth time that night. Yet another desperate text he again ignored. Wong was persistent he’d give him that much. But Stephen was more stubborn. And he wasn’t about to let todays events ruin his night. 

Setting the phone to vibrate, the doctor returned his attention the ever effervescent Christine Palmer. She was a lovely drink of water in a simple but fashionable blue lace top dress, paired with modest silver pumps and clutch. While her hair, that lovely honey hair he could spend hours sifting through, was slightly curled around her nape. She was beautiful. Everything he could ever want in a partner. Ping! Ping! And Wong just couldn’t leave well enough alone!

With a growl, the sorcerer supreme roughly pulled out his phone and heavily hit the button. 

-Leave me alone!!! >Send<

“If there’s somewhere you need to be,” Christine smiled from above her wine, taking a sip, “You seem distracted.”

“No, I’m right where I should be,” Stephen returned the gesture, “I’m just going to turn this off. No more interruptions.”

There better not be any, he thought. He did save the world and all. He was owed at least one normal evening out. Life was finally getting back on track. Christine and him were going to pick up were they let off years before and Le Bernardin would be their new beginning. Strange had picked the restaurant specially for her. French cuisine was her favorite after all and he planned the night down to the littlest detail. She would be wined and dine to the greatest of his abilities with focused seduction no woman could resist. None of it included the current mess at the sanctum.

“So who is it?”

Stephen blinked confused. “Who is what?”

“Texting you? Perhaps a jilted paramour,” she joked. The sorcerer supreme snorted. “Hardly. No, it’s just Wong being entire bothersome and not knowing when to give up.”  

“Didn’t know wizards knew how to use phones. Don’t you all prefer owls or something?”

“Sorcerers not-,” Stephen paused in his correction, noticing the coy smile Christine was trying to hide behind her glass. She was teasing him. Trying to get a rise. He forgot how mischievous she could be. He used to hate it. Think it juvenile and childish. Now he couldn’t get enough of that little smirk that moved her beauty mark just right. With a false seriousness he didn’t know he could manage, he played along, “Only when our magic mirrors are in the shop.”

She laughed. A smooth whisky meant for his ears alone bringing a sparkle to her earthy eyes before worry clouded them. “Are you sure it was nothing urgent earlier? I mean your Wong was pretty persistent. We can reschedule if you need to. You don’t have to stay here for me. I can-”

“NO! no,” he coughed, “no. Trust me, it’s nothing so important. Plus with your work rotation and my saving the world coming at the most in opportune times, it could be forever and a day before we have a chance to go on a date again.”

“Date,” the honey blonde jolted, reaching cross the table for his hand, “Listen, Stephen, I have something important to tell you. I-”

“Banana phone, booboobidoobidoop! Banana Phone!”

Strange choked on his own saliva at the sudden vile music suddenly emanating from his pocket. A ringtone that wasn’t his, from a phone that should’ve be off, that was now causing a scene with the other patrons currently starring at him like he was uncultured swine. Really!? Really! Just when he and Christine were about to have a moment.

Mood immediately souring, he sensed a plot afoot. Magic must be involved meaning one thing. Ripping the thing from his jacket he growled into the speaker. Ready to tear the person now actively trying to ruin his date a new one. “Wong, boundaries! …I already told you I don’t care, just get rid of her,” he quietly hissed, “…Well if she’s scaring you then get rid of her…I don’t care if my supposed soulmate’s head is spinning around like the exorcist, unless it’s a world ending situation don’t call me again. Goodbye Wong.”

With a heavy sigh he set the phone down loudly. Now that that was taken care of he and Christine could get on with their night. No more distractions. “There should be no more interruptions for the rest of our date,” he smiled, “you have my undivided attention.”

Now it’s Christine’s turn to sigh with a world weary weight. The blonde returns his attention with a sad one of her own. “Stephen, what is tonight?”

There’s a momentary sense of panic that flashes across the sorcerer’s face. Did he forget an important anniversary? Did those still count even when you’re rekindling a relationship? Is it her birthday? No that was April, he was pretty sure. If not then what. Think Strange. Think. He was pretty sure he wasn’t forgetting an important date, but then again he was never really good at remembering them. This time around things would be different between though. Hoping he had the right answer he replied, “This is us renewing our old relationship.”

“Stephen, things can’t go back to how it was between us.”

“Of course not. This time things will be different,” the man asserted, “I’m different. It’ll work this time.”

A sad look took root in her eyes, almost pitying in a sense. This was not how either of them thought their night was going to go. Sometimes even the best laid plans blew up in your face. 

“For how long,” she asked. Because while he would try, for once he set his mind to something he would most always achieve results, Christine new him to well. He’d fall into old habits like he always did. They were to ingrained into his character not to. And then things were different now. They could’t be what they were. Before he could respond, try to tarnish her resolve, she piped up, “Cause I know you’ll try, every other time you did, but I know you. And while I love you, and know that I will always love you, the things that I love about you, your drive, your passion, your stubborn headedness, hell even your ego sometimes, these are the same exact reasons that kept us from working. Within a week you’ll be so focused on your career, or revolutionizing you’re field or saving lives you’ll forget about dates, and birthdays, and holidays, and promises, and me. And while I always understood you’re work was important, cause it’s the same for me too, knowing I always came second hurt. I can’t go through that again. I can’t. I thought this was us getting back to being really good friends. And I’m so sorry if I gave your the impression otherwise.”

“But we’re perfect for each other,” blues eyes cut across the table in disbelief. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. “You’re anything I could ever want in a person. And work, work will be second. I promise you. I’ve change a lot since we were last together. Just give me a chance Christine and you’ll see. If you don’t think so just give me the rest of dinner to prove it to you.”

It was as close to the point of begging as Stephen would ever get, and it was a huge concession on the part of a man who was so prideful. If this were a few years ago a younger Christine would have been awed and proud that she could illicit such a strong response from him. At the sign that he cared for her so much when usually the ER surgeon wasn’t assured just quite where she stood with him. Younger her would have agreed to anything he said. Unfortunately it wouldn’t sway an older, wiser, warier Palmer. Didn’t mean the next bit wouldn’t make her feel like the crap on the bottom of someones shoe. No one wanted to wound another's heart (at least not anyone good).

Reaching a hand across the mahogany table she squeezed his in a soothing motion, to try and soften the blow. Or so she hoped. “I’m sorry, I can’t. I know you think that it has to be me, that I'm perfect for you, but you’re not perfect for me and maybe this is just you falling back into your old comfort zone. Cause I know you hate disappointment, and dating full of disappointment. And I’m not saying this because there’s anything wrong with you but I’m different. And what I want is different than before. Who I want is different than before. And you just have to accept that. Or it’ll be really hard for you to stay in my life when I’d very much like you to stay. Just not…romantically.”

You’re not perfect for me, it just kept repeating over and over again in Strange’s skull. Ringing like a bad one hit wonder. He felt like a fool. Maybe he had read things wrong? Except, when he was dying his first thought was Christine. Didn’t even have to question it, just made a portal and showed up. Knew she would help him. Trusted her to save him. And trust was a big thing for him. Maybe she was his comfort zone but was that wrong? To want to be comfortable?The there was that kiss they shared. It couldn't have just been nothing. Granted it was on the cheek but the emotion behind it said so much more. Just like the hand that was soothingly  caressing it’s thumb across the back of his. Fingers that held his so lovingly. Not at all repulsed by the scars on his. Soft and sweet. One delicately wrapped in silver…

His world narrowed down to that one important finger. It shined brightly back at him. How had he not noticed it before? No. He did. He registered the change. He just didn’t want to see. Mind moving past it as if it were’t there. Fitting how a man who could bend reality would do so to his own self. 

“You met your soulmate.”

Flustered he spits the last word out like venom. Of course she wouldn’t want him, scarred and broken as he was. Even with magic he never stood a chance. Not against something as stupid as destiny. How could he compete. The dark haired man wrenched his hand from hers burned, “that’s what you meant when you said you had something important to tell me…I thought you didn't believe in that Disney destiny drivel they try to stuff down our throats the moment we’re conceived. That we make our own choices? We chose who we love? Whether they’re destined or not?! Was that all a lie? I thought you were different. Not like the rest of the ignorant mainstream sheep.”

He wanted to say more, wanted to yell, cause a scene, lash out in spectacular fashion, but his pride made him stop short. Was he just a place holder? Someone to pass the time with while she waited for destiny to show up? Was anything they had real? Would she have chosen him had they stayed together and found her soulmate later? Whatever the answers he was most certainly afraid of how she would have responded. So he remained quiet about it. Watched as her face scrunched up in quiet indignation.

“That right there, I hate when you do that. Don’t make me feel like the bad guy. You always do that when your upset. You draw up your walls and throw what I say back at me. I know my own feelings Stephen,” Christine heatedly whispered, “ I know it’s hard for your to hear and I know a lot of your current hostility has to do with how others have treated you for being markless, but I’m not them. I remember how hard it was for you in the beginning. That in order to even get a residency you had to fake a soul mark with a tattoo or patients wouldn’t even let you touch them cause the hospital by law still has to disclose markless staff members due to an outdated bullshit law. I still careless if someone is markless or not and you know that. So don’t treat me like them. I loved you for you and that’s all you need to know.”

“You only love them because they’re you’re soulmate,” he weakly responded. He had to believe that. Society made him believe that. People had a choice, but culture made you think you had none. It was the end all be all. That you were made for each other. But it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Because what did that say about the kind of person his sister had been. 

“I can tell you’ve had a shock so I’m going to disregard you saying I don’t know my own feelings. I like him for him, not for pre-destiny. We didn’t even know we were soulmates until we were dating for six months! And we’ve known each other for much longer through work. So I’m sorry for hurting you. That wasn’t my intent. I came out today because I wanted to personally invite you to my wedding. I thought as a friend…,” she trailed off, eyes misting, “but I understand if that changed.”

They sit in silence, staring, waiting for the other to say something. But Stephen didn’t know what to say. Actually that was a lie, he knew exactly what he wanted to say but it wouldn’t be anything helpful or decent. So he just kept quiet lest he say something he’ll regret. Because there was always hope that she would leave her fiancé. that just maybe it’d all work out. He knew it was wrong but couldn’t find it in him to care. He wasn’t a bigger person. He couldn’t just be happy for her being happy. The sorcerer Supreme wished he could, but he’d just be lying to himself. He loved her. And he didn’t want to let go.

And if the lapsing silence wasn’t awkward enough as the maitre’d came to top off their wine the romantic arrangement of food he had pre-ordered was being brought to their table. Worse, to add insult to injury, a violinist, seeing the romantic lighting being put out, thought they’d be a good table to get a tip from by coming to play for them. Shame and embarrassment festered like old wounds.

“I’m sorry,” Christine apologized again, gathering her things, “this is awkward. I should go. I didn’t mean-it’s not like I don’t care about you, it’s just a lot has changed since we broke up. I’ve moved on, and from the sound of the phone call earlier you have a chance to too. Don’t let your fear of failure stop you.”

Pulling out an elegant off white invitation she places it next to him as she leans over to kiss him once again on the cheek. Only this time he knows what it really means. “Take care Stephen.”

With that final remark she walks away, and most likely from his life forever. Cause isn’t that what everyone did. He should’ve been used to people walking out on him by now. No one ever stayed. Eyes narrowing he turned his ire toward the violinist who couldn’t seem to take the hint all was not well. Noise grating his last nerve. Now only if he could get this idiot to leave to. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

SI Paris was rather lovely in the afternoon. It was situated just overlooking the Marais arrondissement, one of the more architecturally magnificent neighborhoods of the city. Plus, it had the best little cafes one Pepper Potts loved to refuel for late hour lunches. And as her computer screen was rounding about three o’clock the punctual redhead decided now was a good enough time to up her caffeine intake and consume a banana crepe or two. Though not before checking the status of her asteroid mining acquisition. She had just gotten the green light for the beta test of the project and all that it was down to was one signature to take Stark Industries forward. It could potentially revolutionize how mining worked, cutting down on the need to pollute and destroy vital eco systems for resources that could be cleanly excavated by any of the asteroids that pass earths radius. Or even their solar system.

“Friday, can you check on the status of my mining project? I haven’t seen any funds transferred over to manufacturing yet. Do you know what the hold up is?” 

“Apologies Miss Potts,” the disembodied lilt of the Irish AI rang out, “but the hold up’s still the same as it was a week ago ma’am. Mr. Stark has yet to sign the appropriate documents to further the projects’ progress.”

Ah yes, her usual number one problem maker. Still hasn’t changed. Before, as his assistant she would’ve just forged his signature per usual, but a CEO of a multibillion Dollar company couldn’t be caught doing that. That’s what his current assistant was for. Plus she still wasn’t speaking with him since the accords. Be it by phone or email. “Friday, can you tell Darcy that I need those papers signed? Tell her there’s a nice table at Nakazawa’s in it for her. All she can eat for two, tomorrow, if she can get them to me by end of day.”

“Unfortunately I can not do that at the moment as Miss Lewis is rather unreachable.”

“Oh, anyway you can change that? I really need them asap.”

The AI paused for a few seconds which would worry any who weren’t as familiar with the inner process of an AI running simultaneous programs and tasks of various sizes while maintaining it’s primary functions along side them like Pepper was.  Which was why Friday’s next statement caught her off guard. “Unless you know where I can facilitate the use of a time machine, Miss Lewis in unreachable for the foreseeable future. However, I have access to all the camera’s in New York City and the surrounding transportation hubs in case she pops back up.”

Pepper stopped reaching for her purse. Had Tony figured out how to program his newest AI to give it that patent Stark cheek she was so fond of with Jarvis? Probably not. Last she heard the man was still yelling abuse at the poor thing cause it just wasn’t up to her predecessors capacity yet. Poor thing was barely a year old and he was holding her to unreasonable standards. Which instead meant she had another problem. “Friday,” the red head inquired, “When you say Darcy’s unreachable do you mean she’s out somewhere remote with Doctor Foster taking readings or that she’s been kidnapped? Do I need to call our in house extraction team?”

“I am uncertain…She is not with Jane, nor was she grabbed from the streets. However she disappeared with out a trace on Greenwich Ave making her way toward 6th. I had been following her since she was fired yesterday morning, the last camera angle I have of her is in-between two stores with front facing surveillance cameras. She walks past one yet doesn’t appear in the other or any cameras across the way. The odd thing about it, is that there is no alley between the buildings or underground access, conventional or otherwise, in-between those two spots. In the span of four feet she vanishes, with no report of strange activity to lend any clue to as what happened. I would have brought this up to someone sooner, but seeing as Sir changed my protocols shortly after you two had it out I was left unable to bring up the matter unless prompted into conversation by someone else first. Once she was fired my protocols regarding how I interact with SI left me unable to circumvent this entirely by fixing the problem within the system.”

“She was-I’m sorry you’re saying Darcy was fired yesterday? And the reason she’s missing, and that I had no prior knowledge of this, is because Tony reprogramed you to speak only when spoken too!?”

“That is essentially accurate.”

“Friday,” Pepper growled, “call Tony. Now.”

“As he no longer has a phone after a particular volatile episode this will be a video call to his lab Miss Potts. I apologize in advance. Miss Lewis had been helping sir as much as she could, but he has been rather difficult as of late since you have cut off all communication with him and refused his attempts at reconciliation. Going long manic periods without sleep has left him rather…short tempered.” 

The CEO got the hidden context. Tony in a fit of anger fired Darcy in hopes to illicit a reaction from her. Like the ones he’d been organizing since she took a timeout to figure things out. Only before it just hurt them, now he was involving innocent bystanders into their domestic differences. Enough was enough. If he was going to force the issue, then he wasn’t going to like the results.

A large window appeared on her computer before it immediately blinked with a view to Tony’s current workspace. She could tell from the piles of food containers and trash haphazardly strewn and thrown around he’d been on one of his famous three week benders. The lab was a mess and certainly not up to OSHA safety standards. As for the man in question she could see him hunched over some project or other totally immersed. Cut off from the world. His clothes,  rumpled and oil stained, hair in disarray and in need of a shower and trim. Beard, don’t even get her started on his mountain man beard. The man was falling apart and Pepper knew she had a part to play in it. Her heart cried out in dismay at that. 

She wanted to hold him, to sooth his hurts. To let him know he was just as much of a good person as Captain America and anyone who thought otherwise had never seen the agony the Stark legacy his father, and subsequently Obbie, had hefted upon him. Most people, when looking for the worst in him, see the merchant of death. The man who could kill hundreds of thousands with a single push of a button. It was a position he inherited from his father. What few people knew, what few people understood, was that he hadn’t started off that way. In fact he was that cliche idealistic innovator who wanted to change the world for the better with new technology, medicine, and green energy. And he might have achieved that sooner in lifetime had  his father not mocked and ridiculed his every achievement and breakthrough, leaving the trauma of his psyche for another to capitalize on. Or, more importantly, if his parents hadn’t been murdered. For in that year, after graduation he was poised to take over the chair for SI special projects. Instead he gained a whole company. Lost in alcohol, grief and rage looking for anyone to tether himself to in stepped one Obidiah Stane. Who manipulated a young man into focusing that rage and pain into building the better weapon, convincing him it would help the world the same, if not more, than his other ideas. Which is why it was so difficult to do what Pepper planned next.

“ANTHONY EDWARD STARK!”

Tony flailed out of his chair and turned with a look of desperate vulnerable hope that she almost wavered in her objective. He had a way of doing that to her. Making her question her anger. She only managed to hold onto it by remember his abhorrent behavior. “P-Pepper!?”

“Out of all the irresponsible, reprehensible, shameful things you have ever actively done this is one of the worst Tony! I can’t believe you would have the gall to pull such a stunt to force an interaction between us! No, wait. I can! Tony, what part of I need space don’t you understand! People aren’t toy’s Tony. And the damage you cause them can’t always be repaired.”

Immediately his face shut down and the public person he wore like a second skin hid the real Tony Stark. She hated that face. Hated that she put it there, but Pepper couldn’t keep doing this. Keep hurting herself to keep him from spiraling. At some point enough was enough. Tony deserved great things, but she deserved better. They deserved better.

“Well, Pep,” he shrugged with a practiced ease of nonchalance, “If you’d stop screening my calls and talk to me maybe I wouldn’t have had to go to such lengths just to have a heart to heart.”

The redhead pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to stave of the tension headache she was acquiring from actively suppressing the urge to throw her computer across the room. Tony also knew just how to push her buttons. “I don’t think you quite grasp the impact your actions are having. I can understand you want to be passive aggressive and make me run throw hoops and ladders just to get any motion or project passed by withholding your signature for as long as you deem wise, but firing your assistant just to force me to talk to you is crossing a line Tony! Lewis is a phenomenal employee, or as she likes to say, Scientist Wrangler. I didn’t even have to hire her to take care of you, she just did. No prompting. She didn’t like you because she was getting paid to. Like you worry about with most people. She wasn’t officially hired for the position until a month ago when I was made aware by Friday’s weekly updates just the sort of positive impact she was having on your work and health. Something like this could be a black mark that effects her for the rest of her life. Did you even think about that before you fired her! Not to mention what doctor Foster will do to you when she finds out. And if Fosters mad well then you can sure count on Thor to follow. And that will just be another person who leaves. What are you trying to accomplish with this self destructive behavior-and what are you doing!? You can’t ignore me Tony, I’m giving you what you wanted. Here I am! Right over here. Talking to you!”

She couldn’t believe him. First he does something so cruel just to force their interaction and now he was ignoring her by scrolling through some programing on the holo screen. Typical. “Anthony Edward-”.

“I didn’t fire her,” he growled, vigorously tapping through what she could now see where SI data logs blowing the winds right from her sail.  “If you didn’t know then why the hell did you act like you did?” 

The man hunched in on himself, eyes darting through the mess of information. “Because. I was afraid you’d disappear behind memos and third parties again and I just wanted to see you for as long as I could manage! Even if it was just to fight, or scream at me, or call me the worst names! I just…I just wanted to see you…”

Goddamn, that man had a way of breaking her heart even more than she ever thought possible. Just when she thought it smashed to smithereens he managed to pulverize it further. One day she wouldn’t even have atoms left for him to smash. But that meant, despite yelling at Tony for the wrong thing (which now made her the worst sort) that meant there was someone that still needed to be scream at. Or more likely given her patented CEO “you’ll never work above minimum wage again”  speech cause Pepper Pott’s was always professional and never out right yelled at employees or business competitors. Also, one more thing.

Pepper turned toward the ceiling with a slight frown, “Friday, why did you lead me to believe Tony had fired Darcy?”

“I apologize if gave you that impression,” the AI responded, not sounding at all apologetic. Pepper had an inkling Friday was more independent than Tony gave her credit for. Cause she’d bet money the AI did exactly that. Knowing exactly how she’d react. Cause what kid doesn’t want mom and dad to make up. “If you recall I had yet to mention the individual responsible for the firing of Miss Lewis. Though I can see the correlation of key phrases that would have led you to that belief.”

Oh, now the CEO was positive the AI had orchestrated their confrontation. Taking advantage of the current situation. Friday may not have gotten that Stark snark, but she seemed to have inherited the Stark knack for calculated manipulations. For better or worse.

“That’s odd,” Tony grumbled, eyes narrowed on a particular set of data, “She was definitely fired yesterday, it’s in the system, still recognized as an intern by the way, but everything I come across says shortstack hasn’t officially worked here since May 23rd and-what the hell! She was only being paid fifteen dollars an hour!? And she excepted that shit contract!? She and I are going to have a chat about negotiation after this. Hell, I paid you six times this and that was a probationary salary. Oh and look, we even stopped paying her a couple weeks ago. And she likes me because…”

“Wait, where are you seeing that-,” Friday instantly brought it up on her screen, “oh-that’s not. No, that’s not right. I gave her a hefty pay raise, a bonus, a promotion, I even paid her backpay for taking care of you before she was hired to do so. This is not- where’s the new contract I personally saw to. Her dental plan, her new health package, her personal valet, I don’t understand. Friday were is it?”

“It appears the digital contract was tampered with, Miss lewis signature is a digital duplicate, and the paper ones are seemingly missing. Company policy states both must be completed to circumvent digital espionage from third parties or the contract is void,” the AI explained. 

“I think the question now is, who fired her? And why Friday forgot to mention this yesterday,” the genius glared at the ceiling like it was all her fault.

“You reprogramed me not to speak until I was prompted sir. This was after the thirty-seventh time I reminded you that REM sleep is required for optimal brain function. As for who fired Miss Lewis, that would be the head of Human Resources. Pelethites Roy Mulligan. The company record states she was fired due to improper paperwork, threats upon her employers and an assault upon Mr. Mulligan personally. However these allegations are false.”

“Then rehire Shorty and fire tighty-whities There problem solved,” Tony flippantly waved his arm in the air. Except no new line of coding appeared on his screen and Lewis’s personnel file remained the same. “Apologies Mister Stark, but I can not do that as it would violate the restraining order you and Miss Potts have placed against her. This bars her from contacting you, you’re friends, or Miss Foster. If she so much as comes within’ a half mile of the tower or any SI property she will be levied a minimum of two years jail time.”

“Friday, we didn’t file any restraining order.”

“No Miss, but one head of human resources did in your supposed interest.”

Tony slammed his feet on the ground an stalked his way across the room. Pushing boxes and bins as he went. “Tony what are you planning to do?”

Not bothering to turn around and face Pepper he pulled off his stained shirt, “What does it look like, getting dressed. Or did you want me to traipse down to HR looking like a heavy metal hobo and send our stock plummeting again. I can be responsible you know.”

Shucking off his pants, the engineer opened a locker and pulled out an Armani suit, while spritzing some expensive cologne to hide the stench of his science bender; Pepper would like to say she didn't watch him get dressed, but she was a CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation. She knew when to take advantage of a situation. An getting a discreet eyeful of what years of hard engineering honed in every muscle that ripple and flexed across his backside was to good to pass up. Even if Pepper was still undecided on their relationship, and mad at him, didn’t mean she had to refrain from ogling.

Breaking her from her dangerous thoughts the AI updated them with more news. “I found some vital information missed from the head of HR’s extensive background check you might be interested in. It puts the recorded conversation between him and Miss Lewis the day of the event in perspective,” Friday addressed, bringing up videos, emails, private media accounts, and pictures on their respective screens, “It would appear that Mr. Mulligan is an active member of the Marksist cult known as Defenders of Eden. He alone is the reason for the system error. The motivation for which appears to have had everything to do with Miss Lewis being markless. Knowledge he was privy to due to their past association as foster siblings. He confirmed his suspicions of her being that same foster child by gaining assess to her confidential background check, using two security members currently in his pocket.”

Tony paused. A thousand different scenarios buzzed like angry wasps crammed in his skull, blood pounding in his ears before the ambiance of the room settled back into focus. Wrenching a comb and a laser razor (because everything is better with lasers) from the top shelf he slammed the metal door.

 Tony prided himself on many things. One of his better accomplishments was his equality policies that applied to every branch in every division for a variety of concerns leading his company to be know as one of the most progressive to work at. This included the fact SI was one of the few companies that never disclosed one’s markless status (which most did due to the social stigma that had yet to disappear since the 1500’s). What the head of HR did wasn’t just a breach of confidentiality, but against everything Stark worked for. As a very late bloomer himself, he personally understood the prejudice markless faced. Combined that with the fact it had happened to, who he considered, a friend. Well, lets just say, by the way Tony stormed out of his lab, and to the elevator, there would be blood.

A quick brush of his hair and he begun lasering the beard he had acquired away. Pepper appear on a holo graphic window beside him, game face on. Damn, she was giving him all sorts of ideas his heart just couldn’t take at the moment. Destroying that train of thought requires a distraction. “Friday you said you had audio, play it. I wanna know how angry I should be when I go all Wrath of Khan on Pilates.”

“Would you like me to start it where it gets good so to speak or would you prefer to hear the whole thing from the beginning,” Friday asked, slowing the elevators decent marginally to give him time to listen to a play though. Trying not to nick himself, he used a video window to see his jaw, “Give me the cliff notes for the beginning then start at where he starts to hang himself.”

“Very well sir. After a vaguely sexist remark by Mr. Mulligan, he informs Miss Lewis she no longer works there due to clerical error. She tries to reason with him. Then ask to speak to you two directly. Which leads into this.” 

“I’m sorry, I can’t just bother the heads of Stark industries with lowly personnel matter. You’ll have to schedule an appointment with their secretaries, though it may be hard to gain an audience, but please, keep trying. I’m sure you’ll sort everything out in no time. In the meantime, I’m sure you understand that I’ll have to ask you to leave the premises. Any property currently in your apartment will have to be rigorously screened by security to make sure that during this error you were not in fact stealing company secrets. You’ll be allowed to collect your things in three to ten business days. Now, if you’ll see yourself out.”

“No. You can’t just throw me out. Listen if you’ll just let me look at my personnel file I’m sure I can find out where the problem occurred.”

A sudden clattering and heavy breathing is heard.

“That’s it I’m calling security. Olivia, be a dear and call Stanton and Croydon for me would you. Miss Lewis has over stayed her welcome.”

A feminine inhale of surprise could be perceived after a moment of stunned silence.

“You! Oh my god I remember you. You’re from that Marksist family! You people made that year hell for me! Every foster home I got put in you people harassed till they sent me back. Every high school I attended you made sure the students knew I didn’t have a soulmate so they’d bully me. Every time I’d so much as set foot outside you pelt rocks at me to excise a demon that wasn’t there! I bet there isn’t even a problem with my employment!”

“You’re wrong. There is a problem in the system, I put it there. I never processed your intern contract. Imagine my surprise when it came across my desk. To know that the same filthy sinful markless hellspawn who disappeared all those years ago was actually working here. That they’d let someone like you even in! Well, as a faithful Christian I wouldn’t stand for it. So I threw it away.”

“You-you can’t do this! You bastard! If you think-.”

The sound of a door bursting open reverberates through the speakers.

“And what kind of time was that. I called you up here a minute ago, I expect expedience, what if she had harmed me. I could be dead right now. Remove her from the premises.”

“Wait, wait! You can’t do this. Hey, don’t touch me! Hands off the goods! Hey, watch where you’re holding! Friday. Friday! I need you to call Tony! Call Tony and tell him whats going on! Friday! Hey, bring us up to Jane. Wait don’t go down-”

The two humans stare at each other from thousands of miles away, as the elevator footage of Miss Lewis being overzealously manhandled plays before them, they share a look and for once, in months, are in agreement. Even if it’s silent. “Friday,” Pepper quietly fumes, “speed up the elevator and inform security that the two guards involved are now blacklisted. Then get Happy to HR with personnel he trusts. I have a feeling Mr. Mulligan will be difficult.” 

“I calculated as much, so Mr. Hogan and his team are already on their way up. They should be arriving at the same as Sir.”

The Doors ding open to a commotion already in progress. A man is ranting and raving loudly, while another person sobbed, filled with a few people quietly chuckling and others watching on nervously from the entrance to the HR bull pin. People walk by in disquiet as if the occurrence was the norm for HR and thus didn’t bother responding. And wasn’t that rather telling. Tony quickly brushed his hair, pocketing it the minute Happy came out of the other doors. Who looked just as surprised as he was at the commotion ahead. “I take it there weren’t any calls from HR?”

“No,” the ex boxer grumped, “but then again Croydon and Stanton were in charge of this floor.”

“Well, how bout I make this day really worth the water cooler gossip and crash this department huddle,” Tony grinned like a shark adjusting his tie. Though he might be ruining two peoples day if the person yelling wasn’t the person he was looking for. Which Tony was always Ok with getting rid of more scum. Especially when the woman sobs grew louder and wetter the closer they pushed their way into the heart of HR. 

Now, why did everyone just stand by and do nothing was something Tony’d like to know. The verbal abused in a rather public and unprofessional manner was making him think about purging the current HR staff for new ones. But then most looked like they wanted to run and hide or piss themselves in fear of the aggressors yelling. So maybe some nice therapy sessions instead might be in order. Especially when they recognized Tony Stark moving towards the curfuffle. He might need a morgue instead if they all didn’t start to resume their regularly scheduled breathing. 

As the last of the lookie-loo hostages parted a mountain of boxes overflowing from a corner office became visible. Some of the boxes at some point fell over and spilled their contents all over the floor. Cause an assortment of brightly colored large dildos, diapers, enemas, catheters, and spiked paddles littlered the ground. Hell there was even one of those animal breeding benches next to the secretaries desk with a bow on it! Jesus. He was about to demand what was going on when a third element to the spectacle let its self be known. Or rather heard. Moaning that is. A cacophony of ‘oh yes’, ‘harder’, ‘take daddy’s cock baby boy, take it’ and ‘give me your load’  echoed from the filled office, from what Tony knew to be the top of the line, surround sound, executive SI computer speakers he gave to every department head.

Tony had a hard time picking out weather to laugh or continue on the war path. He’d take the happy medium and settle for humiliating and firing who he was 99.6% sure was Pelethites yelling at his secretary (also who names their kid some obscure biblical name these days, no wonder he’s a bigoted asshole).

“Look at you, crying like a fucking child making a spectacle of yourself! Not only do you embarrass this office but more importantly myself. Look at this, look at this,” Mulligan hollered, waving a pink dildo dangerously close to the woman face, “You’re supposed to be managing my accounts! Does this look like something I would buy!? Do I look like a sexual degenerate to you!!” 

“N-No, S-sir,” the poor woman hiccups around her tears, “I-I’ll fix this I swear.”

“Start by getting me a new personal phone! All morning I’ve been receiving sexually explicit phone calls from people wanting to take a dump on my chest. Then fix my bills, cause you apparently never paid them, my water was shut off this morning. After that call the NYPD as I’m clearly being harassed,” blood shot eyes glared, before turning their volcanic gaze to the other employees, “As for the rest of you, which ever one of you undermining underlings did this better come forward when the authorities show up or not only will you all be getting a fifteen percent pay decrease, but Olivia here will be promptly fired then blacklisted. Do I make myself clear-Mister Stark I didn’t see you there.”

The minute the cretan saw Tony he did a complete 180. Face morphing instantaneously from unadulterated rage to a simpering smile. Made the engineers skin crawl is what it did. Operating with a nonchalance he didn’t really have, since Tony was, if possible, more angry, he shrugged. Might as well give the man more room to hang himself. “Clearly. I gotta say, don’t think this is in compliance with those sensitivity seminars you have us attend every year.” 

“Ah, well, one has to make exceptions to keep ones house in order, don’t you agree Sir. Give this lot an inch they’ll take a mile and then some. They need a firm hand. Speaking of,” His smile slipped off the minute he turned to is assistant, “What are you still doing here! Get the man a drink. You should be good at that at least.”

“But sir w-what about your accounts-,” the woman, Olivia, squeaked when her employer grabbed her arm. Hard. She whimpered as Mulligan quietly growled in her face, “Did you just talk back to me in front of Mr. Stark. Know your place. Get the drinks and then-“

Bam! One minute the man was looming over the mousy brunette, the next he was laid out flat staring at the ceiling. A second later and he registered the pain. In the next he saw Tony Stark shaking his hand, blood dripping from his knuckles. P. Roy Mulligan froze in rage.

“I know, I know,” the billionaire rolled his eyes, “work place violence, but you did say exceptions are okay when cleaning your house or something. Who am I to disagree with HR. So you kinda brought this on yourself Pilates. Oh, in case it wasn’t obvious, you’re fired.”

Mulligan laughed something dark and dangerous as he stumbled to his feet. For a washed up jock he could still look a might intimidating. “Hope you enjoyed your cheap shot cause that’s the last one you’ll get Stark. I’m going to rake you through the coals when I bring this up to the other board members. Since it must’ve slipped your mind that you’re not in charge anymore. You can’t fire me.”

“No, but I can.”

“M-miss Potts,” the sycophant stuttered, face ashen in panicked distress. He wondered how much she had heard. Frowning from a random workers computer screen Friday commandeered Pepper leveled her best threatening stare. Gave Tony the warm and fuzzies inside. Though it could’ve just been heartburn from last nights Mexican takeout. Or at least he hoped it was, since he couldn’t really do anything to fix the former.

“As of four minutes ago you’ve been terminated,” the woman looked like she’d ate a warhead. Must be hard to remain civil and professional when all you wanted to do was scream obscenities at a much deserved recipient. Tony still had problems handling things appropriately, see previous example above.  “I suggest you cooperate and follow security down to holding for your exit review. All personal items will be catalogued and screened vigorously before being handed over. Any and all corporate assets will be frozen until such a time that-”

“If you think I’ll just let you-”

“-You have been cleared of any misuse, theft or abuse of-” 

“-Screw me over you usurping -”

“-Company property and funds. Now Happy, could you please escort Mr. Mulligan away before he causes anymore of a scene. I’m sure everyone one would like to get back to their jobs.”

“-CUNT!”

Everyone froze, shrinking back from the rapidly rising tension. Here was a man use to getting things through a show of dominance losing any sort of civilized mask he ever built to hide the old world beliefs underneath. His veneer of “tolerance” and “politeness” lay shattered on the floor. Seething Tony rushed the man only stopped short at Pepper’s pleading voice.

“Tony don’t.”

Mulligan laughed. The man actually had the gall to laugh. The only reason he wasn’t getting his teeth knocked in was Pepper didn’t want Tony getting in trouble. If the circumstances were different she’d have stopped Tony only if it looked like he were about to kill the man, by then he’d be a bloody heap. Rat bastard was lucky there were people around. “Yeah, thats right,” he goaded, “hit me again Stark. Help my case more. I have witnesses. This company will be mine end of day for this assault. You’ll all be ruined!”

“Interesting,” Happy finally spoke up having watch the situation escalate enough, “I didn't see Mister Stark hit anyone. Ma’am did you?”

The secretary paused in the spot light. All he co-workers eyes waited, breath abated, for her response. She opened her mouth but closed it at the look of rage exuding from her boss, Olivia withered under his glare. Floundering. But a glance at all the fearful expressions of her co-workers, combined with Mr. Starks surprisingly soulful chocolate eyes, shored up her resolve to gather a glimmer courage to answer. “N-no sir.” 

“Tch! Whores always stick together,” Pelethites sneered, “So what if you have the word of a low class woman, it doesn’t just make this go away. You’re knuckles are injured and my face is beaten. What will the police think when I bring up this matter to them. Hmm? Who are they gonna believe a degenerate or an upstanding citizen.”

“Oh that little love tap. That happened when you tried to assault the new head of HR,” Tony said throwing a shoulder over Olivia’s giving her a squeeze, turning his smirk back to Mulligan, “Apparently you’re disturbed. We’ve been getting complaints all month. This upstanding citizen would like someone to take away the degenerate who bought his colleague a breeding bench. Disgusting, trying to force your sexual perversions on your coworkers.”

Turning red in the face Mulligan snarled tacking a swing at Tony who dodged. “I did no such thing! You did this, didn’t you. It had to be! You whoremongering slut-”

Zck, zck, zck, zck, zck, zck. The lumbering man froze, face wide in pain, joints seized in place as a wet spot begun to dribble down his inner thigh. Tony watched in disbelief as the guy fell forward into the puddle forming underneath him. Happy took his hand off his wristwatch, two holes, the apparatus of which spat out cordless taser barbs, filled themselves back up seamlessly. The former boxer pretended like nothing happened as two of his men picked up the unconscious man and dragged him away.

“So you like the upgrade I take it,” Tony asked, eyeing the device, simultaneously thinking of 24 more ways to improve it. Hogan shrugged, “I mean I prefer to use my hands more than anything, but it is kinda cool. When I was shooting it at the practice range a couple of the other guys were wondering when it’d be available to them. Plus it actually tells time now.”

“Uhg! How many times to I have to say I’m sorry. How was I supposed to know it was originally water proof when you bought it, then know you’d immediately go for a dip.”

“Tony, I got electrocuted!”

“Only mildly, your fine.”

“Fine, my heart was-“

“Boys,” Pepper interrupted their friendly banter, “Perhaps another time. Now if you’re finished I suggest you fix this mess before Foster finds out. Call me when you have news.”

The screen blinked back to its original kitten and puppies desktop as both men stared at it. Tony sighed, “God I love that woman.”

The ex-boxer rolled his eyes at the sappy look on his friends face. Those two better hurry up and get back together before their angst and UST kill him. “Keep it in your pants.”

“Yeah yeah yeah. Right, now to more important things. You there, as the new head of HR I’m going to need you to do a complete audit of your predecessors work. Starting from the moment he was hired. Oh and don’t worry about all those things,” he waved back at the executive office, “someone will be by to remove that. The contractors should have you a new officer by the end of this week, so sorry about the noise in advance. I expect awesome things.”

The previous secretary come department head baulked. She thought he was just riling up her previous boss.“But Mr. Stark-”

“Great things,” he interrupted as he and his friend started to leave the office, “Oh! and if someone could alert legal about all this that would be great.”

Once out of earshot of the stunned crowd happy decided to clear the air. “Tony.”

“Yep,” the genius popped his ‘p’, strutting into the elevator. Didn’t even bother to press a button since his AI was just that efficient and knew where he needed to go.

“So you and pepper…,” happy trailed off in hope.

“Work in progress.”

“That’s great.”

“Yep.”

“You do realize when Foster finally comes out of her science fugue and notices Darcy is missing you’re a dead man right.”

“Yep.”

“Wait,” the raven haired idiot back tracked, “Darcy? What happened to Miss Lewis?”

Of course he focused on that. “She brings me and the rest of my people baked goods every Friday, that and she ask me how my day went and actually listens.  Sue me, I like the kid. Hell most of security is wrapped around her finger. If anyone else had been called up we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. I’ll tell you that much.”

VRRT. VRRT. For the 67th time that day Happy’s phone went off once more. Buzzing away in his pocket. He resisted the urge to pinch his brow as Tony raised an eyebrow, “You gonna get that?”

“It’s just the kid. I’ll call him back.”

“You sure? Could be important.”

“He’s a teenager. He thinks everything important. Right now he just needs to be a kid. Not a superhero.”

A silence settled in after that. Neither knowing what really to say. It was a sore point between the two, argued to exhaustion when he proposed bringing the kid in to help fight what the media called the avengers ‘civil war’. There was nothing civil about it if you asked either of them. Not that it mattered currently.

Reaching their destination Happy turned to his friend. “If you need any help finding Darcy before Foster finds out let me know. My people are definitely motivated-”

“Before I find out about what?”

Unfortunately for the boys the elevator doors opened at the tail end of their talk to a zombified Jane Foster. Who from the bags under her eyes and general musk of BO must have realized it was time for real sleep. Crap, how long had she been in the labs? Sensing his life flash before his eyes when the woman suddenly sobered up and focused in on them, with suddenly way to aware eyes for a food and sleep deprived scientist, Happy instantly picked up his phone and walked away hitting re-dial. “Hey Peter, how are you,” he pulled his cell away for a moment, “Sorry got to take this. Yeah, I just got your call so I didn’t listen to you voice mail. Really? Stopped a mugging, that’s great. But I think you need focus more on your studies…”

Tony yelled after his retreating friend. How dare he leave him to his fate. “Hey, you’re supposed to be my bodyguard get back here to guard my body!” 

Foster glared at him, blocking the exit. He was trapped. Crap. Angry brown eyes bore into him like a laser. “Explain. Now.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

Link to Christine’s dress:here 

 

Link to Strange’s date atire:Here