Not Here, Never Here

September 09, 2018:

Emma Frost pays a visit to one comatose Tony Stark. To lecture him, as one does.

MedBay - Stark Tower - New York City

Characters

NPCs: JARVIS and Dummy (by Tony Stark)

Mentions: Rachel Summers, Obadiah Stane

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

She waited two days, hoping the fit of pique would pass.

Two days.

Not nearly long enough.

Courtesy of one Obadiah Stane, Emma has far more liberties within Stark Tower than is really appropriate for a rival CEO. Of course, she does enjoy a closer relationship on occasion with the man whose name is emblazoned upon the side of the tower, but that probably should be even more reason to impose some hefty restrictions upon Emma’s access credentials.

Thank you, Mister Stane, for disagreeing.

When Emma enters the building tonight, it is long after the lion’s share of employees have abandoned it for the evening. Gone are the docile kitten heels that she favors in deference to Tony’s modest height, and present are a pair of murderous, black, peep toe stilettos with a tell-tale red sole. They click sharply down the empty halls with a military precision.

The woman is in a slinky black knit cocktail dress, and her neck and wrists sparkle with a crystal mesh encircling them. The tall collar about her neck supports the gathered neckline at her throat and the numerous strands of crystals that drape down the muscles of her back left bare by the scandalously low-cut back of the dress she wears.

Her hair, twisted up into a prim French twist, leaves in full view the stony features that the telepath has trained into revealing nothing lest she should meet someone between the front doors and the medical bay where she is destined. God help them if they try to stop her.

Someone almost does.

He’s the new guy. You know the type. Impressed with his little bit of power. Trying to impress everyone on just how good he is at his new job. In general just throwing his weight around under the excuse of ‘Mister Stark is resting leave him alone’.

He is also very, very bad at reading a room. Not the greatest of skill sets for a guard.

So when Emma walks in looking fit to kill…he heaves himself up from behind the desk and starts to move to block her way. Thumbs in his belt. Smirk on his face. He’s gonna make her show him her badge. This’ll be fu—

His partner thankfully is older, wiser, more experienced and comes with a very developed self preservation instinct. The lanky figure, a guard that she might have seen a time or two, is out of his seat before the new guy utters the words that could get him killed. She can feel them forming in his thoughts…

‘Badge?’

But Devon the older guard gets there first, laying one hand on the new guys shoulder. “The executive elevator is already unlocked.” He tells her smoothly as he angles his suicidal partner away from her line of fire. Said partner is looking towards Devon incredulously as Emma is allowed in, shown in even.

And behind her…

“Oh my god, Rudy. Do you want to die?”

At least Devon has a better sense of things.

The elevator ride is quiet, channels shifting through to a pleasant background tune that she might find pleasing. The medical wing is quieter, not quite deserted but close. No one wants to bother Mister Stark, and Miss Potts gets angry if people bother him. No one wants that. Tony’s room is…of course, the biggest there. The expensive and no doubt tasteful decor that Pepper put there long sense replaced with pictures of…well…Tony. Either as himself or as his armored alter ego.

That man can never keep a secret so it is a good thing he just admitted to the Iron Man thing right off the bat.

Decorating one wall is a strange looking and rather large scan code that Dummy must have put there and at the food of the bed is a strange and actually well sculpted statue of…well…Iron Man. Standing gloriously atop a Mayan style pyramid with a sunburst behind him. Both the sun and the Iron Man are sculpted from solid gold.

If it wasn’t worth a fortune it would be exceedingly tacky.

As it is its only slightly tacky.

The man himself? He lies in bed, chest rising and falling in a content rhythm. The bed itself advanced enough to not need any of the dozens of physical hookups that most hospitals would require. The glow of the ARC reactor comes from under the sheets, steady and soft. He looks like he could wake up any moment.

But he hasn’t.

Quietly the voice of JARVIS fills the room as the door opens for her. “Miss Frost, always a pleasure.” The AI sounds distracted, maybe sad. It is hard to say with him. Being very…well…butlerish. “I’m sorry Mister Stark is not well enough to greet you himself…can I get you anything?”

She feels the thought coming. He’s going to ask her for a badge. And he’s going to feel the urge to make some very lewd overtures with his nearby office chair in 3… 2…

Emma’s venomous gaze shifts sharply to the man who dares to interrupt—only to find he’s sensible. She scuttles the mission to make Rudy learn intimately the details of objectophilia, and offers a curt dip of her chin as the closest thing to a ‘good choice’ affirmation as the elder Devon is likely to get from her. He is spared a similar fate. “Thank you.”

And then she proceeds onward to the elevators with nary a word more. Especially to Rude Rudy. There is just the click of her heels and the sway of her hips as a parting farewell before she disappears into the elevator.

…and reappears at the appropriate floor. If she passes anyone, she doesn’t even afford them a glance. She is a woman on a singular mission, and it brings her into the room where JARVIS addresses her.

She visibly starts, and then glowers upwards towards the disembodied voice of the AI. “Good evening, JARVIS. And no, I don’t think so. Not unless you have an open bottle of something red and well aged.”

As her pale eyes shift to take in Tony, her arms cross. “Really, Stark? You play god in your sleep?

“I think I can find something, Miss Frost.” JARVIS’ reply might come as a surprise, or it might not. It is Stark’s house after all. “I shall send someone down with it in a moment.” A pause. “I shall send a drone with it down in a moment at the very least.”

Even the AI doesn’t want to send a human to disturb her.

“…and, to be fair, Mister Stark was not consulted on the statue. It was more of a…tribute?” A pause from the AI again. “As with all things with Mister Stark, it is complicated.”

Stark himself? He doesn’t even move. Doesn’t even bat an eyelash. He remains lying there, breathing, though there is a strange…buzz about him. The mental plane humming even as the man himself lies asleep. It isn’t exactly his thoughts though…or more specifically not just his thoughts. His thoughts are quiet…well…quiet as they ever are. The man designs suits in his sleep and not even a coma will change that.


“That is very considerate of you. Thank you, JARVIS.”

The words are said, although the tone is distracted as Emma tilts her head to the side a few degrees. Her pale blue eyes narrow.

What did you do now, Tony?

She asks the question silently and rhetorically. For, clearly, he has gotten himself knocked into a coma. Fortunately, she two has some close personal experience with the comatose state, and she knows well enough that the state is not one that can be appreciated in the visible world.

No, the reality of it lies far deeper than that. The hum she feels—the strange twist on the familiar, uncomfortable, too-swift rush of thoughts—is proof of that. She settles into the chair nearest to him, lamenting that it doesn’t seem to be a recliner.

“You tell anyone that I was here, and I will learn what leads an AI to regret. And then you will learn next. Do I make myself clear?”

The telepath doesn’t really wait for an answer before she gets right to work. «Well, you managed to not die. That should be counted for something, I suppose.»

The thought is cast out as a testing line, and Emma cautiously sets her prodigious powers to the task of searching the unseen. To see what’s heard. To see what comes back. To see what else is in the terrifying contents of Tony Stark’s head.

There is a long pause from the AI as the computer system at the heart of the tower seems to process that promise. Now most people wouldn’t even faze JARVIS with a threat like that. However, he has had time to become somewhat acquainted with Emma Frost, and he knows that she can be as singularly focused as anyone he knows when her mind is put to it.

And so, after that pause, there is a very diplomatic response.

“Of course, Miss Frost.”

Because JARVIS doesn’t know much about these humans, but he knows that if anyone could find a way to make good on that threat she could.

He retreats to let Emma work, bothered by only the little form of Dummy who rumbles in with a little platter carefully held in his claw. A bottle and a glass balanced on it as the crawler AI stops nearby.

But then she tosses that stray thought towards the man in the bed and like a pebble tossed in a lake it creates ripples. The soft hum is disrupted for a moment as something looks back along the trail that thought made and towards her. It is a familiar feeling in a way, she’s felt something similar in the mind of Aldrich Killian. Yet it is different in a myriad of ways. Where Killian was dark, harsh, a creature coiled in the dark waiting for a misstep. This is the opposite in almost every way.

The feeling that her thoughts brush against is bright, warm, curious but at the same time welcoming. Where Killian’s was a swarm of buzzing corpse flies, what is in Tony’s is a cheerful group of buzzing bumblebees. Industrious and working on something but not hostile. Just curious at this stray thought in the head of their host.

There is a reaction deeper in there though, something more than the buzzing cheerful lights, Stark’s mind is never ceasing. It is just in rest mode right now…but still. There is an echo of an echo that comes back. Like shouting through a tunnel, quiet and echoey. Tired and locked away. Still there somewhere. Under all the new buzz of feelings.

Cheerful, positive, warm, and fuzzy buzz of feelings. Maybe this is worse than poking at Killian.

That swarm though seems to over-ride the echo of Stark’s thoughts for the moment. The echo lost among the buzz. A buzz that seems to focus not a thought but a feeling towards her. Telepathic? No whatever this is there is definitely empathic energy there.

Friend? Help?

Common belief is that Emma exists in a perpetual dark celebration of her thorny exterior, an unending revelry centered around her cruelty and caustic demeanor. Certainly, she does everything in her power to foster such a perception.

It is easier to accept calumny and condemnation when you set the outline that it will follow. Humans are particularly predictable in that regard. They search out things to hate, to claim superiority over. When put before a menu of things to hate in but a single individual, they will lose all sense of and desire for creativity. They will not choose new things to hate you for, but rather pick from the menu that you've presented to them. In this way, you make it hard for them to surprise you. You offer them fewer opportunities to catch you off guard, to find cracks in the proverbial mortar. This is how a woman evolves from wounded girl to a foreboding and daunting fortress. This is Winston Frost's great legacy.

It is easy to think, then, that Emma is deathly allergic to sunshine and flowers, happiness and brightness. That the cheerful bees would be a deadly sting. The truth is, as it is wont to be, a bit more complicated and nuanced than that.

There is indeed a feeling of irritation that surrounds Emma’s psychic presence, subtly bleeding off of her. It could easily be mistaken for disdain. Disdain makes an excellent mask for concern, you see. The irritation is actually birthed from the same place that despises useless, empty platitudes in the midst of real trial. Distractions, parading as Comfort. But let the world think that Emma Frost is actually allergic to happiness.

She opens her eyes at the rumbling Dummy, then leans down to take the wine glass.
After a beat, she remembers that she probably should show some manners because the little robot probably has some approximation of feelings. She lets her very real hatred of robots sit aside for a moment. “Thank you. Now run along.”

She doesn't wait for response, although she will chide it if it doesn't immediately obey her command. Assuming that it does, she closes her eyes once more with the glass of wine in hand, sits back more deeply into her chair, and crosses her legs. She sips to sample the vintage, and then deems it worthy of consumption.

«Oh, darling,» she projects, tone cool. «You have gotten in deep this time. Right now, I’m not sure where I would start. You seem to have some company already.»

Dummy does, though he does stick around long enough to make sure she at least slightly approves of the vintage. Instead of just leaving though the little tracked piece of technology trundles over to the opposite side of Stark’s bed, little claw rotating and drooping slightly as if its worried. Gently tucking the genius into his bed there with all the worry and gentleness that would be displayed by family.

…Stark is strange. Thankfully she’s used to strange by now.

Hopefully.

That warm feeling buzzes about her as if considering her words. Trying to divine the emotion behind them. They don’t come close to piercing her thoughts, the mass of whatever they are not even remotely powerful enough to breach her mental defenses. They exist only in Tony himself after all.

Her message though is received and analyzed for that spark of emotion in it. Is it worried? Angry? Hateful? Dangerous? The buzzing little motes go over that thought thoroughly searching for dangers. Do they find the concern hidden under the veneer of disdain? It is impossible to say. The motes operate almost entirely on emotions and it isn’t in them to judge. They seemingly act and move as one, dozens, hundreds of little pinpricks of feeling. A hivemind just like she’s seen before but will all the corruption removed.

There is a feeling from the gaggle of bright lights in Stark’s mind of protectiveness but they find nothing they were worried about in her short message. And so it passes on into the realms of Stark’s subconscious. The feeling remains with her though, warm, worried, working. Repairing.

Repairing more than just the recent injuries. Perhaps Stark made his creation with just a bit too much enthusiasm. The little vital readout on the side of the bed reveals that little tidbit of information. He’s not just being fixed…

Her thoughts do filter down somewhere into his mind at least, with the help of the strange swarm at least. He’s deep down in there. Locked away in his own mind somewhere until the nanites finish what they are doing. Awareness is debatable, at least without diving deep into those thoughts.

Shock and near death do strange things to a mind.

However there is a sliver of something there, a ghost of a thought. Featherlight the filters back through the haze of strange motes that busy themselves working on Stark’s sleeping form. She can ‘see’ them in a way. The pinpricks of presence inside him. None of them with a real ‘mind’ but together working as a whole. Their work seems strangely slowed as she watches. Not the slow of a careful hand finishing the perfect sculpture but almost sluggish. Still careful but without the energy one would think Stark’s creation would have.

When the thought returns to the surface of his mind it is again echoey and more feeling than words.

«Emma…» There is relief in that voice. More warmth than most would think. He /does/ genuinely like her and it is harder to hide things when you’re half out of your own mind. «…swear….not hiding….»

Yeah. Tony Stark is still in there.

The motes seem to pick up on that feeling of his, swirling around her thoughts for a second before again an emotion comes towards her. This time from the swarm itself and not from Stark. Images and feelings, nothing approximating words but something there.

Friend! We fix broke! You help? We hungry!


If Emma could swipe the little gnat-like voices out of the way, she would. Instead, she uses her ability to attempt to calm them. Make them a little more tired. Make them a little more quiet. «Yes, yes, yes. Now hush and let the grown ups talk.»

Because under their flurry, she feels that thrum of human consciousness. She sips deeply from her wine, opens her eyes just long enough to find a nearby surface to set the glass down, and then gingerly rests her head against the back of the chair.

To the outward observer, there is only the crease of her brow and the relaxing of the rest of her body as she puts more energy into pushing down to where she feels that pulse of thought. «I find your timing suspicious, Stark. But I put an end to the whole thing, so hide however you like. Setting a spy in my direction. Tsk. I have other things to do at that party than babysit someone who has no business being there. I’d let you waste your time if it makes you happy to do so, but I won’t let you waste mine.»

They swarm around her thoughts, tasting and sampling the feel of them. Her powers push against them though and slowly they ebb away to return to whatever tiny jobs the conglomerate of tiny powers have. Though thanks to her they do move even slower. Though this does have the side benefit of reducing the background buzz to less teeth jarring levels.

Which means her thought gets down, shoved through the presences and the ever rushing river of information that is Stark’s mind. Down, down, deep into the recesses of his thoughts. Brushing past things intriguing and terrifying before they reach whatever kernel is still aware at the center of it all.

«…am…I…» Still weak, but the traces of amusement thread though the thoughts. «…getting lectured…while in a…coma?»


« Oh, good, » Emma replies with the vague sentiment of satisfaction. « You picked up on that. It does speak well on your chances of recovery. Once you sort out whatever… this delightful set up is that you’ve conjured for yourself. »

There is a part of her that feels quite a bit betrayed by the whole situation with Rachel Summers, that Tony Stark would be the weakest link in that particular struggle. It is mitigated somewhat, however, by the sight of his prone form. Not that she would ever in a million years confide either of those things.

« After leaving Italy early, I thought that I had really done you a disservice by not lecturing you properly. But since you don’t really have anywhere to be, I might as well make good use of the time. »

«I…tend to do stupid things when I’m dying…it’s a quirk…» Stark’s voice isn’t any stronger, in fact it seems to be fading just slightly. Without the interference though it is there well enough for her to ‘hear’. «Might have…outdone myself this time…nanites shut most things down until they fix me…»

The lesson here, kids, is don’t inject yourself with experimental nanomachines powered by technomagic when neither should really exist in your current timestream.

His voice falls silent for a moment as if he’s trying to build up a bit of strength.

«Suppose I deserve a lecture…» It comes slowly, the thoughts spooling away from the sleeping man without even a hint they are happening. Not so much as a beating eyelash. «…for what it is worth though, I’m sorry.»

It is nigh impossible to lie in this state, even for Tony Stark. So the nearly once-in-a-lifetime honest apology is there for the taking.

—-

It takes a great deal to catch Emma by surprise.

An honest apology, without a shred of ‘but’ or other diminishing clause to reduce its power, seems to do the trick.

There is a long moment of silence as Emma actually opens her eyes, lifts her head, and squints hard in Tony Stark’s direction. She frowns even harder.

«Oh, stop being so pitiful about it,» she tells him. «You’re not dying. You’ll just make this all terribly awkward.»

“JARVIS,” she says a moment, looking suspiciously around the empty room. For a telepath, she really should be more comfortable with the idea of disembodied voices. …She’s not. “Are you still eavesdropping in here? He is stable, yes?”

Not that it would change what she’s said. Frost is, after all, not above lying. And even a nobler lie is still a lie. Just a comfortable one.

“Ah yes, Miss Frost.” JARVIS’ voice sounds quieter though. As if he doesn’t want to disturb her. “Forgive me but Mister Stark left strict orders to monitor him.” A beatpause at the question and the AI’s voice becomes slightly more confident. “As for his physical condition…yes. In fact he’s better than stable…that…is part of the problem. The nanomites are very…enthusiastic. The antigen is doing its job just…a touch too well in some cases.”

No grey hairs. No age lines. No scars. They are very helpful.

“Miss Foster has been here and she seems to have found a way to regulate them. However Mister Stark did something to throttle them back I believe. To give people time to make sure everything would come out well. Hence why he still has not woken up.”

«It’s what I do best…» The ghostly thought teasing at the edge of her awareness. «…I’m a professional at making things awkward.»

—-

There’s a derisive snort at the thought of the machines doing a job too well. Her eyes turn back to the sleeping Stark, and she looks none too happy about whatever thought is passing through her mind unshared.

And then she takes the wine glass up anew and—without anyone to judge her for it (not that she’d care overly)—easily drains it. The emptied vessel is then set aside as Emma lifts herself up onto her feet so she can look down on the prince of Stark Tower. At least he has heroes enough to carry him through for the time being. “If there comes a need, you can contact me. Else, I think I’ll give a wide berth for the Dudley Do-Rights of the world to do right.”

«Apology accepted,» she tells Stark, her tone as cool as ever as it bleeds through the psychic realms she masterfully travels. «Just don’t make a habit of it. As much fun as it is cutting upstarts down at the knees, there are—on occasion—unforeseen complications with the practice. But for right now, do as you are doing. Looking very handsome as you just keep not dying. And if you’ve an extra thought or two to spare, you can think of where we could possibly make another try at an escape once you’re better. Since you’re the one who ended up in the coma, I’ll even concede the location to one you prefer. As long as it’s not the Alps. Skiing is overrated.»

He's in a coma, and she's making vacation plans.

“Of course, Miss Frost. I’ll make sure to keep you updated on his condition.” JARVIS either read more into those words of hers or read just enough. Either way the AI’s polite tone is unwavering. Dummy trundles up once again, claw reaching out to carefully collect the glass.
JARVIS might suspect that she is having a conversation with his creator but he doesn’t let on. No need to get Dummy worked up and he might try to write her a message or give her a hug if he knew.

«Anywhere?» That strength is fading, the mental voice quieting down even as the buzz of the swarm returns. Dancing like fireflies around the edges of her mental mind, pushing curiously against her thoughts.

He sleep. The images, the feelings come to her. We fix!

«…JARVIS…did tell you…I have a space station now…»

He can’t help but try to get the last word in though.

—-

Updates on his condition will do. “Yes, please do. Just… discretely, hm?”

…Space station?! Emma’s incredulous gaze slowly turns in the direction of the man on the bed, and then one eye squints ever so slightly shut in suspicion. If JARVIS suspected the conversation, that reaction alone might remove all doubt.

« You know that I rather meant on terra fir— » But it’s too late. There’s that wall of positivity erecting itself in between them, and the telepath sighs the sigh of the tried and frowns again.

She’s fairly certain he did that on purpose.

Looking at her abandoned wine glass, the blonde begins moving towards the door and her long stride sounds perhaps a little less like the sound of doom as she goes. “And remember, JARVIS,” she offers, with her very best in thinly veiled threat. “I very much believe that everything that thinks itself to feel and learn can learn how to regret. And I’ve been told I can be an excellent teacher when properly motivated.” She pauses, dramatically at the door, looking back into the room and setting her pale and kohl-framed eyes to scanning high up in the open air as if the prim intelligence would suddenly make itself corporeal and visible.

She really hates the idea of the AI being there, despite his impeccable manners. But, he is, and she can’t help it. So, there is just the reminder to leave. “No one is to know I was here. Don't motivate me.”

She doesn’t wait for any more affirmation that he’s gotten the point. She heard it once already.

But there’s learning a thing. And then there’s reinforcement of the lesson.

Both are done.

So she is gone.

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