It took you Rhodey a little more than an hour to return to Stark Tower. It wasn’t that the Iron Patriot was slow, but because you ended up hitching a ride on a SHIELD chopper after all. Steve and Bruce who were on board the Helicarrier had overheard the situation and had offered to come along. (At which point the good old captain offered a ride on a chopper that you were pretty sure he wasn’t cleared to take but took anyways.)
The four of you sat around the penthouse bar, no one saying a word as all of you waited for the arrival of Malik and Mokuba. To distract yourself, you had fallen back into the routine of cocktail making although no one was in the mood for drinks. You were on your sixth cocktail when the door of the elevator opened. The distinct sound of heels against the granite floor told you that it wasn’t who you were expecting.
“It’s us,” Natasha declared. You, Steve and Rhodey stood down at that.
“What are you two doing here?” You growled out, trying to be as accusing as possible. You actually liked the two SHIELD agents.
“Fury sent us.”
“We came to help.”
The two assassins grimaced when they realized the inconsistency of their words.
“So which is it, Fury sent you or you guys came here by yourselves?” Steve asked, an amused smile playing on his lips.
“We’re here because we want to be,” Clint answered diplomatically, eyeing Natasha as he did.
“SHIELD looks after their own my ass.” You parroted Natasha’s words from the helicarrier.
Said redhead simply sighed. Helping herself to one of the drinks of the bar, she took a long sip before replying. “Well think of it this way, Fury didn’t have to let two of his top agents run off to help out on a high-profile kidnapping case, but he did.”
“Is that what the Mandarin incident was, a high-profile kidnapping case?” The sarcasm in your voice was almost tangible.
Clint mimicked Natasha’s actions and grabbed a cocktail of his own, “Terrorist attacks, assassination of the president, we don’t care. Alien invasion? Diabolical plans to take over the world? Then we care.” His self-deprecating humour wasn’t lost and everyone bit back a small smile at that. “What about you two? Why are you guys here?” The archer asked his two fellow avengers.
It was a valid question, Steve and Tony weren’t exactly best friends and Bruce preferred to not be involved in anything potentially violent unless the fate of the world depended on it. (And even then it was a grudging sort of involvement.)
Steve replied first, “Stark may be an annoying son of a gun, but he’s our son of a gun.”
Bruce shuffled around comfortably before answering. “Science brothers,” he cringed even as he said it.
The awkward answer seemed to do the trick and all the tension that was mounting in the room gave way to laughter. As all of you recollected yourselves, you wondered what Tony would think of the situation. You knew that beneath all the narcissism, Tony held onto a healthy dose of self-doubt. To know that so many people genuinely cared for him, would he love himself a little more after learning about that?
“Um…Ms (l/n), something odd is happening to my system,” JARVIS’ cut in, for once sounding uncertain.
“Is it an attack?” Rhodey asked. Everyone in the room immediately took to battle-ready positions.
“No, I…I think I have a visitor,” JARVIS answered, sounding incredibly bewildered.
At that you stood down and chuckled. Yes, that would be how the situation is perceived by JARVIS. Everyone in the room looked to you curiously, waiting for an answer. Instead you just kept chuckling. As if on cue, the holographic projectors in the room flashed and a hazy blue human form took shape. Said human form gave himself an onceover and wrinkled his nose in disapproval, “I guess that’s as good as it’s going to get.” He sighed. “I don’t understand how Stark’s AI is alright with being a disembodied voice.” The form flickered some more and took on some semblance of colour. “Much better.”
Naturally, the remaining occupants of the room stared.
“Unlike you, JARVIS was never a person,” you replied casually. “Guys, this is-“
“Noah Kaiba, at your service,” Noah bowed with a flourish.
“Nice to meet you Noah,” Steve replied, more out of habit than anything.
“Aren’t you…dead?” Natasha, who has read the Kaiba files asked.
The living occupants stared incredulously at the female assassin then at Noah. The green-haired Kaiba shrugged. “Technically speaking, I am dead. I am nothing but a digital copy of the real and dead Noah Kaiba’s brain. You can say that I am to the Kaiba system, what JARVIS is to the Stark network.”
You smothered your sniggers behind your hand, way to oversimplify the story. You decided not to comment however as it was neither the time nor place for it. Everyone was saved from making any further comments as the lift doors to the penthouse slid open for a second time that day. A raven and a blonde stepped in. Said raven launched himself at you, and it took all your years of training to not bowl over, catching his 6 foot form.
“Ooof, Mokie, you’re not that small anymore,” nevertheless you ruffled his hair affectionately.
“(f/n)-nee!” The youngest Kaiba cried into the hug.
A wry grin flitted onto your lips, it didn’t matter how old the youngest Kaiba brother was, he would always be a cry-baby. You carefully manoeuvred the crying teen onto the couch, patting his back in a soothing motion. You turned to smile apologetically at your long-time partner, who simply nodded at you in reply. The room waited for Mokuba’s sobs to subside, and you wondered how long you had to hold the distraught teen. Thankfully for you, undead Kaiba brother decided to step in.
“Mokuba, the more time you spend crying, the less time we have to find Seto.”
The sobs stopped instantly, and Mokuba stood up abruptly, wiping his tears on the sleeves of his shirt as he did. A determined expression replaced the sad one on his face. You subtly shot Noah a grateful look. Waterworks out of the way, everybody settled in the living room for an impromptu briefing of the situation.
Noah, who seemingly have been temporarily granted control of some of the tower’s system called up the necessary visuals. Sets of holograms appeared all over the room, many of them scaling down and collating themselves into A4 sized piles beside each occupant until only one large screen remained in the centre of the room.
“I’ll first play the attack on Stark followed by the attack at Kaiba mansion. We will go through the information we have compiled from the footage later but if you want you can look through your own copies meanwhile,” Noah gestured at the holographic piles beside everyone. And then as if remembering something, he spoke up again, “Oh yes, the blonde wearing too much jewelry is Malik Ishtar, Kaiba’s head of security and the mop of black hair is Mokuba, our younger brother.”
Right, self-introductions weren’t made yet…you brain supplied. Indeed, as you knew everyone in the room, it didn’t occur to you that they needed to be introduced. Polite greetings were exchanged and ever the captain, Steve nodded on everyone’s behalf, signalling Noah to roll the video.
Much calmer the second time round, you caught many things you missed on the first. Fine details like the people’s height, direction the chopper flew off in and the tools they used… Then Noah rolled the footage of Kaiba’s attack and Malik had to place a hand on your shoulder so your KI wouldn’t set off the Hulk. Despite being a hologram and thus incapable of feeling KI, Noah cast you a knowing look. Had Mokuba returned to the room just a second earlier, he would have been caught in the fray. At best it would have meant that he too would have been kidnapped, at worst…you did not want to go there. The screen flickered black as the footage came to an end and you let out the breath you didn’t know you had been holding. A series of graphs and images were called up instead.
“What we know so far is frankly not a lot. We know that they are an AT related organization, most likely Japanese and that their last known target was Sumeragi Kururu. I’ve also put together a report on their known arsenal based on the attacks…but that doesn’t really help us determine where Stark and Seto are,” Noah stated in a business-like tone. You noted his concerned glance at Natasha and Clint as he finished his briefing however and wondered what he was withholding.
Apparently so did Natasha. “I sense a ‘but’ in there?”
Noah looked at you, as if asking for permission. Well technically he wasn’t really asking you for permission so much as questioning you about Natasha’s trustworthiness… As angry as you were at SHIELD, the master spy had a point, Fury did not have to let her and Clint run off to help you guys but he did. At that you sighed but nodded. Noah raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment at your reluctant gesture.
Casting one last glance at Clint and Natasha, Noah continued. “I’m currently rerunning analysis with the data we took from SHIELD, hopefully with the additional information, I will be able to put a name on our organization and find out where Stark and Seto are held.”
“If I may, the analysis will probably go much faster with my assistance,” JARVIS piped up, not the least bit concerned at the fact that Noah had just hacked SHIELD database for information.
To their credit, Natasha and Clint didn’t react aside from giving an amused snort. “Looks like I swiped the analysis from Aoi’s lab for nothing then,” Natasha commented lightly, waving a black USB drive to emphasize her point.
“Additional information is always welcomed,” Noah said with a gentlemanly smile and held his hand out. Natasha looked at the outstretched holographic hand and then at Noah with an amused smirk. Everyone looked at the scene confused, and then Mokuba made ‘aah-ed’ in enlightenment.
“Noah-nii, they don’t use Kaiba holographic projectors here,” Mokuba got out between giggles. Noha paled (if it was possible for holographic projections to pale) and muttered something about getting Seto not sending projector plans to Stark in exchange for the arc reactor.
“Kaiba projectors are capable of forming tangible holograms,” Malik piped in while you took the USB from Natasha to plug it into the nearest outlet. The rest of the avengers nodded understandingly, visibly impressed. Of course, discussion about the kidnapping had to continue.
“So what we need to figure out now is why Stark and Kaiba were taken,” Steve surmised.
Sadly, one hawkeye disagreed. “I think before we even do that, we need to first consider if they’re still alive.” Clint threw out mercilessly.
It was a question no one wanted to touch, but it was still a valid query. No point planning a retrieval mission if the targets were dead.
Rhodey turned away, his knuckles turning white as the possibility of his friend’s death dawned on him. His reaction was nowhere near as the younger Kaiba’s however. Mokuba’s face turned white as sheet and the waterworks that was recently stopped threatened to start again. Tou shot Clint a death glare and pulled your surrogate brother into a reassuring hug.
“Your Nii-sama isn’t that easy to kill.” You stated firmly, sounding more certain that you felt.
“Don’t worry, I’m almost certain that Kaiba and Stark are alive and kicking.” Malik voiced out almost casually.
“How are you so sure?” Steve asked.
“Ishtar is right, Seto and Stark are definitely alive.” Noah added.
“On grounds?” Clint challenged. Not that he wanted the two to be dead, but the certainty Noah and Malik had about their statements unsettled him.
“Well, for starters, if they wanted Seto and Stark dead, they would have just killed them and left the body for us to find, why go through the trouble of kidnapping them?” Noah pointed out matter of factly, his usual arrogance tainting his voice.
“Exactly. Nobody goes through that much trouble just to kill someone. Trust me, I’m an ex-crime syndicate boss, I know how they think. They want those two for something, and until they get it, Kaiba and Stark are definitely alive.” Malik elaborated as he strolled to the bar and picked up one of the drinks you made.
You heaved a sigh of relief upon hearing that. The argument was convincing coming from two ex-villains.
“In which case interrogation may be an issue then,” Natasha pointed out and another round of concern went around the room.
“Nii-sama won’t break.” Mokuba stated with so much finality that shocked everyone. “He won’t.” He reasserted.
“And we all know Stark can talk his way out of anything.” Steve added, mainly for your benefit. You smiled gratefully in reply.
“So we can also strike out the situation of them being under any serious harm then…” Malik summed up.
“This means we just need to figure out what they want with Tony and Kaiba then!” Bruce said with false optimism. At that the room lapsed into silence again.
Indeed, all that discussion still did not answer the crucial question of why they took Tony and Kaiba.
“It could be the convention,” Natasha threw out her hypothesis. “We know that their initial target was Sumeragi, and I have it on good authority that she will be participating in the convention. Maybe they kidnapped our two billionaires to get a crack at her?”
“That wouldn’t make much sense would it? Kidnapping those two will more likely cause the expo to be cancelled, or at least security to be doubled, it won’t make capturing Dr. Sumeragi any easier,” Bruce pointed out.
“Or maybe they thought by kidnapping Stark and Kaiba, it’d force SHIELD to thin out their sources and give them a better shot at kidnapping Sumeragi again?” Clint threw out.
Steve nodded in agreement, “Makes sense, they went through all the trouble to kidnap Ms Potts, turn her into a sleeper agent to infiltrate Stark’s party just to get to Dr. Sumeragi. Who’s to say this isn’t another convoluted plan to distract us from their real target?”
Maybe you were biased, maybe you just didn’t like your mother being the centre of everything... The argument was logically sound, but your gut told you that you guys were going about this all wrong and you always trusted your gut. “But what if we are looking at this all wrong?” The words slipped out before you could help yourself.
“What do you mean?” Malik asked, eyes twinkling. After working with him for so many years, you knew that meant he shared your doubts, just that he didn’t voice his thoughts out yet. Not that you appreciated him putting you on the spot like that.
“We’re assuming that Dr. Sumeragi is their final target, but what if she isn’t? What if they genuinely went after Tony and Kaiba-sama?” You stated weakly.
Although your statement didn’t really hold candle to the much more convincing and logical angle Steve and Clint had come up with, it gave Malik the opening he needed. “Lets assume that’s true for a second, why would they change targets then?” He sounded genuinely curious, but you knew better. It was a baiting question.
“Well Fury’s got a fortress around Sumeragi now,” Natasha supplied.
“But that doesn’t explain why they took Stark and Kaiba instead, it’s not like they’re easy targets,” Steve countered. Natasha shrugged noncommittally, she was just answering a question.
“That being said, SHIELD is proofed against AT technology, Kaiba mansion and Stark Tower isn’t,” Clint said thoughtfully and cast a quick look at Malik and Noah for affirmation.
“We’re proofed against everything except AT,” Noah confirmed. The admission gave this new stance more credibility and everyone fell back into thoughtful silence.
“We still haven’t figured out why they want Tony and Kaiba though,” Rhodey spoke up after a while.
Without looking you could feel the glee rolling off Malik in waves, this was exactly what he was looking for. You shook your head slowly, why couldn’t he just share his thoughts openly like a normal person would.
“That’s easy,” Malik grinned, not making much effort to conceal his smugness at figuring out the enemy’s plans anymore. “What do Seto Kaiba, Kururu Sumeragi and Tony Stark have in common?”
“They’re all scientific geniuses?” Bruce answered.
“But they went for Sumeragi first, if they wanted geniuses they would have gone for Stark or Kaiba first no?” Rhodey, who wasn’t familiar with your mom’s expertise asked.
As much as you disliked your own mother, the comment still rubbed you the wrong. You’d like to see Kaiba or Tony dismantle an AT construct in under 5 seconds.
Bruce shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe she was an easier target?”
“The insinuation on SHIELD’s lack of defence aside,” Malik shot Natasha and Clint a cheeky smirk at that, “They went through a lot of trouble to target Stark as a decoy just to get on the helicarrier to get to Sumeragi, that not only means she isn’t an easier target but that she has something our two male geniuses don’t.” He paused for a second. “Besides a vagina.”
Before Malik could follow up with ‘boobs’, you punched him at full force in the stomach knowing your partner could take it. Mokuba chortled and Noah shook his head amusedly. You were going to offer the answer to Malik’s question but Natasha beat you to it.
“It’s AT, she’s the leading expert on AT technology, something even Stark and Kaiba aren’t well versed in.” Realization dawned in the redhead’s eyes.
“I know Fury’s got her building something huge,” Clint let slip and the predatory glint in Malik’s eyes intensified.
So that’s what your old partner was up to. He wanted this exact admission. A quick exchange of glances between yourself, Malik and Noah told you all you needed to know. Noah had found some relevant information while hacking SHIELD’s database, but the brief period of contact didn’t give him enough time to hack into such heavily guarded data.
“They couldn’t get to their first choice, so they’re settling for the second best, Stark and Kaiba.” Steve breathed out as he finally got with the program.
“I don’t know about Kaiba, but if anyone can figure out a new technology overnight, it’s Tony alright,” Rhodey added his own two cents.
“That’s all fine and dandy and all, but that still doesn’t tell us where they are,” Steve pointed out with a frustrated huff.
A knowing grin spread across Noah’s face, but it was JARVIS who stole the thunder. “I believe I may be able to assist you with that.”