Chapter 6 - I am

It is in our weakness that we find the path to our strength

It is in failure we discover the secrets of success

It is down the path a man takes to avoid his fate he often meets it

It is in the bright light of day where monsters truly dwell

It is only when one has lost everything that they discover who they truly are.

(SHIELD Helicarrier - Undisclosed Location - May 23rd 2009)

"So in the space of a seven days the entire Ten Rings operation in the region has been decimated, thousands of tons of illegal weapons have been destroyed and their forces have pulled completely," Fury turned to face the conference room full of SHIELD's senior staff all but one of them wasn't meeting his eyes "And we have no idea what did it?"

"We don't sir," Jasper Sitwell stated clearing his throat awkwardly afterward as he avoided eye contact with the Director "The only lead we might have is that within the same region a US air force F-22 went down in an apparent training accident. The accident is fake and we've pulled the flight recorder for the incident and…"

"And?" Fury pressed looking at Sitwell who had drawn the short straw of being the one to have to give the report.

"The F-22 crashed as a result of a collision with a …..metal man." Sitwell coughed after the statement that just resulted in a lot of people in the room glancing at each other. "Local intelligence is still low but um….what little we have is saying locals have reported this flying metal man being the one that liberated Gulmira."

The room fell silent as more than one senior agent raised an eyebrow at Sitwell's report, most looking at the very thin file and a few blurry photos that were supposed to back up the claim. Fury was stoic as he took in the information before casting a glance at the one senior agent who was willing to meet his eye. Dick Grayson just held the look before giving a small nod knowing what Fury was communicating to him without words.

"Okay, we have over 150 armed conflicts across the globe, not to mention numerous organisations we were dealing with before the Ten Rings appeared on the radar. So I am going to dedicate some resources to look into this 'metal man' situation but largely with the Ten Ring's pulling out we need to shift focus back to our existing operations. You're all dismissed."

Fury watched as the room quickly emptied apart from Dick Grayson who remained seated in his chair making no move to leave the room. Fury had to stop himself smirking a little as he watched Dick somehow sit up straight whilst still lounging in his chair. Despite being one the most serious agents SHIELD had and his well earned reputation of being terrifying Dick had never lost his ability to snub authority wherever he could without actually being rude.

"I'm putting you in charge of the Stark operation, we picked up those men Nyssa brought to the gala but they aren't talking which is no surprise. I want this to end as soon as possible" Fury sighed he moved to take a position closer to Dick who "If this was Stark he's done a lot more than just miniaturised ARC Reactor technology. He is on a mission and I don't need another billionaire genius running around involving themselves. Tell me what you need"

"I'll need three STRIKE units on quick reaction, I want to increase the men Coulson has, I want him to still run point with Stark he's making inroads no point in changing drivers mid race" Dick straightened as he met the Directors gaze knowing this wasn't the time to be flippant or push back as he sometimes did "I would also like to bring Agent Romanoff in as my second, we will stay behind the scenes, she already knows the situation so she's a good fit."

"It'll will take a day to get the STRIKE units but I can get Coulson the extra men by 20:00 local time and you can have Romanoff but make it clear she is not off the hook yet." Fury stated with a glare that only had one response which Dick gave a crisp certain nod " Good, there is one other thing…..Bruce has in-"

"No," Dick's response caused the temperature in the room to drop as Fury heard not the protegee but the mentor's voice sound out a fact that Dick was aware of he suddenly shifted uncomfortably before speaking again his voice now normal "Sorry sir, I meant….I can't do that, I'll send Agent Romanoff, she knows the situation but I….I can't.

The room fell quiet as Dick looked away from Fury, failing to maintain a professional facade as he blocked out thoughts of his former mentor. Fury's eyes lingered on the man for a few moments before merely placing the Stark file in front of the man

"As long as the situation is dealt with, I will leave up to your discretion how it is," Fury gave his order without a hint of emotion as Dick took the file and met Fury's gaze "However, you will need to speak to Head of Analytics Operational Director Gordon, is that understood?"

"Yes sir," Dick replied, standing up tucking the file under one of his arms before giving a salute and heading out of the room, leaving Fury alone.

The Director of SHIELD watched arguably his most experienced and best agent leave the room before turning around to face the window that looked out into the clear blue sky. He took a deep breath as his mind raced with the possibility of what this situation might develop into. He had already dealt with one billionaire that had mounted his own private crusade to save the world and he was not keen to see another. However, as his eyes lingered on the clear blue sky an old idea sparked in his head an idea that he had for years put to bed but if this was handled right maybe he cou- No!

The voice that sounded very much like his old mentor Peggy rang in his head. The last team had met with disaster and all your candidates over the years are either a long way off, dead or far from ideal. Besides, the one man that could potentially help pull a team like that together and make it work isn't exactly your biggest fan… he also still dresses up as a Bat.

Whilst Fury passed the time debating whether his old idea that would never get approved anyway was crazy or just stupid, arguably the real centre of SHIELD decision making was experiencing its own debate. The central server room of the Helicarrier had seen many hard decisions over the years and if the walls could talk and were of course permitted to disclose highly classified material they could tell tales of some truly epic arguments. Right now however it was possibly experiencing one of its greatest fights.

"WILL YOU JUST COOPERATE, BULLOCK?!" Barbara slammed her tools down as she ran a hand through her hair glaring at the server tower that she had just sunk 3 hours of life into which she had named after one of her father's old cops due to his grouchy nature. "I swear if you corrupt one more file I will dismantle you and let Nat use your pieces for target practice."

She pulled up her tablet and activated the tower again hoping this would be the last time she would have to get into its systems again. She waited a few moments, tapping the screen as she activated a series of diagnostic programs before she let herself smile as they all came back positive. Now, all she had to do was access the South-East Asian folder and see if it was still corrup-

"OH COME ON!" Barbara had to stop herself from throwing her tablet device at the server tower which she deactivated again, she spent a few moments collecting her thoughts before releasing a sigh as she collected her tools and started back towards her screens "Well I tried, time to scrub you clean transfer your data and get Bullock 2.0, there goes my budget for next mo-"

Barbara froze as she was greeted by a sight she had honestly never thought she would see whilst living ever again. Standing in her domain by the small dusty set of drawers that occupied the dark acolave was the figure of Dick Grayson himself standing with his back to her. She could see the drawer had been open and although he hadn't acknowledged her presence she knew better than anyone he knew she was there. She moved closer and allowed for a true genuine smile to appear on her face as despite a little streak of grey in his hair and the slight marks around his eye Dick was largely unchanged, he might have grown up but to her he was still the Boy Wonder. The smile turned slightly bittersweet as she saw the framed photograph he was holding in his hand, it was the one of her with Bruce, Dick, Alfred and…..Tim sat together, the last time they really had been together.

"I'm surprised you have this," Dick finally acknowledge her presence turning to face her for the first time in nearly two decades, he gave a small smile as he clarified his meaning "I thought I got the only copy, Alfred was using that antique to take this, I swear I thought it was going to come out in black and white."

"Oh I remember, the flash nearly blinded me. I was very surprised when he sent it to me," Barbara manoeuvred herself so that she was squarely in front of Dick who placed the photo on top of the drawers between them "It was a birthday gift, he sent it to me my second year here, still don't know how he did it. I was in Japan working on a last minute assignment, I didn't even know I was going to be there until 30 minutes before my flight left. Suddenly, I'm in this SHIELD bunker under Tokyo when a perfectly warped parcel arrives with a card wishing me a happy birthday. "

"That's nothing, two years ago I was undercover in Belarus, op went a little sideways. I ended up tied to a chair in a basement, managed to get myself free and clear the building." Dick founded himself chuckling at both the memory and the look that Barbara was giving him as she saw is subtle brag for what it was "Anyway, as a clear the last of them, I hear a knock at the front door, so I go an open it and there was a Wayne Transport delivery driver with a package waiting. He is really is one of a kind,"

"You have no idea, a few years ago cracked opened some of the old SSR files on the Howling Commandos and let me tell you Alfred did a lot more than 'Just made the tea and drove the car'" Barbara smile widened remembering the line Alfred always gave when anyone asked about his service with the elite unit during the war.

The two suddenly found themselves falling back into an easy natural repertoire as they started sharing stories about the old Wayne Family Butler, forgetting for a few moments that they were SHIELD operatives and their lives had changed. The stories of Alfred laid seamlessly into reminiscing about their old adventures together, although neither missed that other only chose ones that a certain person hadn't been involved in. Eventually however their reminiscing stalled out as they avoided a singular person who had been a looming presence in everything they had done back then.

"When was the last time you saw him?" Dick asked shifting his position so that he was leaning against the wall, his question earned him a frown from his old friend as he realised he had to clarify who he had meant "Alfred, in person I mean, I haven't seen him since…..the hospital"

"I see Alfred every year, on the same day, July 19th," Barbara admitted, sighing a little as smile faltered a little however she kept her eyes on Dick "When we visit the Ravencroft Institute for….."

"Tim's Birthday," Dick finished his arms crossing his chest as they always did when he felt uncomfortable. "Does he get my cards? I send one every year,"

"He does, but um….the staff don't let him keep them," Barbara admitted causing Dick to look at her in confusion causing her to clarify "He used one once as a weapon to attack another inmate, several actual, and he almost killed a guard,"

Dick was silent for a few moments. He opened his mouth to say something but he simply didn't have the words. He just closed his mouth and then turned his head away from her as he stared off into the distance his thoughts impossible for Barbara to read. Suddenly Dick did something Barbara easily recognised, something she had seen thousands of times before, Dick went full Bat, he just switched off his feelings and focused on work. Barbara didn't blame him, the topic of Tim wasn't an easy one for her, she had lost the use of legs and other things had occurred to her that night she didn't like to dwell on. Dick knew it all, he had been forced to watch as Tim, their brother, hurt then crippled her, before he shot Dick in the head with that stupid flag pistol. Technically Dick had died that night, the flag had logged itself through his eye into his brain, the medical experts he had been rushed to had declared him dead when he had arrived. So it wasn't an area either really liked to linger on.

"I need the data for the Stark mission, I am running point now, Agent Romanoff will liaise with….with him, I am beefing up Coulson's team and I will be pulling extra resources in" Dick pushed himself off of the wall and strode forward to stand in front of Barbara's monitors, his hands moving behind his back, "So what is the current situation? Do we have any leads on Nyssa or any links to the Stark Weapons being shipped around the world,"

"With regards to Nyssa, big black hole when it comes to data on her which is no surprise, SHIELD's files on her and her family are very limited. The SSR was more concerned with Hydra than supposed rumours and when Peggy ran SHIELD she left them to….." Barbara trailed off not wanting to mention the name of their mentor as she didn't know if it would set Dick off or not. "Anyway, we do have an update regarding the Stark Weapon scandal, Coulson just sent this over, I was in the process of updating the Director when one of the towers crashed."

Barbara moved over to her monitors bringing up her pad, she tapped it a few times causing the monitors to become filled with incriminating evidence. Altered manifested, overseas accounts, dummy corporations and pages of communications as well, taking centre stage was the video of the captured Tony Stark from a few months ago. Dick's eyes took in all the data and could see the name that was common throughout it, Obadiah Stane. The revelation wasn't really a shock to Dick, during his time in Gotham he remembered meeting the man more than once and Obadiah had never left him with a good impression, SHIELD's files were also thick as well with his barely legal deals over the years.

"Where did Coulson get this?" Dick asked, his eyes narrowing on one particular file that depicted the schematics for some sort of armour that he had never seen before.

"Pepper Potts, Tony's assistant, she pulled it from Stane's personal server. Apparently Tony's finally taking an interest in the people around him. Coulson's debriefing her as we speak and is making plans to arrest Stane tonight," Barbara glanced at Dick and then to the schematics that had seemed to capture his attention, she had only glanced over it was clearly a crude first draft of something but whatever it was, it was highly advanced "Of course, he'll have to run that by you as you are now leading point on this, I can tell him to hold off if you want to get the extra resources"

"Tell him, to go ahead, I'll try to get the extra men to him today before he moves, tell Agent Romanoff I want her " Dick gave Barbara a nod as he moved to leave but stopping as he reached the bottom of the ramp that lead to the exit door "Oh and Babs?"

"Yes?" Barbara turned to face her old friend a look of

"I want to meet this Sam of yours, pick a restaurant my treat," Dick gave a wink and smile that she hadn't seen in nearly two decades.

She just smiled as he left to try and get more resources for Coulson's up and coming raid against Stane whilst she turned back to her monitors and started to get ready for whatever was awaiting them ahead.

(Bat Outpost 31 - Beneath Wayne Enterprises Los Angeles Division - Ver Late Hours of May 23rd 2009)

"So Mr Stark appears to trying to make up for his life,"

Alfred remarked his eyes fixed on the blurry images that SHIELD had that he then compared to the very clear pictures his employer had of Mr Stark. The SHIELD photos showed blurry images of fly objects and had been taken from orbital satellites, whilst Bruce's showed the Red and Golden painted armoured man very clearly. He wasn't sure how Bruce had gotten the photos but knew from experience that if something existed Bruce was able to get his hands on it. He turned away from the screens to look over to the workbench that said man was currently hunched over.

The secret facility they were occupying was one that Alfred noted was largely out of date and he was already making mental notes of improvements that needed to be made; this base hadn't been updated since the early 80s. Bruce had built this base and hundreds like it not just across America but all over the globe, most were hidden in Wayne Enterprises sites or else in one of the many residences Bruce had all over the world. Bruce always referred to them as outposts, but Alfred had always liked the term that a young Dick Grayson had called them by, mini-caves. In truth that is exactly what they were, they were mini-batcaves all following the same design as the original cave minus the trophies of course but all came with a Bat Computer and display case for the suits Bruce and his apprentices had worn.

That thought caused him to look at the display case for his base that Bruce had purposefully kept unlit, it held only three costumes. The first and most prominent was Bruce's original Bat Suit, it was far less bulky than the partially mechanised suit he now wore and looking at the thin fabric and padded armour Alfred was amazed Bruce had survived what he had. To the right of the suit was Dick's Grayson's Robin suit, it was one of the later ones although the design hadn't changed Dick had grown considerably over his years as Robin and it had only been a year later that Dick had abandoned the old suit for his Nightwing persona. To the left of Bruce's old Bat Suit and completing the set was Barbara Gordon's Batgirl costume, although it was Black like Bruce's and followed the same design as Batman it differed greatly from both the other suits.

Batgirl's suit had a large golden yellow bat symbol on its front and its utility belt and cape were noticeably smaller than the other two, however the major difference was Barbara's suit was more elastic in nature than Bruce's or Dick's had been. The young Miss Gordon had to wear her costume initially under her regular clothing as much as possible as she didn't possess an identity like Bruce's or Dick's where she could be away from people for long periods without it raising suspicions. So Barbara's suit initially had very little in the way of protection, something Bruce had never liked and so had designed the smart fabric to be able to shrink or enlarge to fit the wearer whilst being resistant to heat, tearing and ballistics as much as possible.

"He's dangerous, delusional and isn't exactly turning over a new leaf," Bruce grunted as he carefully loaded his tools into his suits utility belt with one hand whilst the other worked on its mechanical motors that boasted his strength. "He built a weapon and used it to wage a war against a group he has no real knowledge of, instead of just selling it. So instead of being an self deluded weapons seller with a god complex, he's become a self deluded one man army in mechanised war machine with a god complex"

"Well, the good news at least is we have eyes on Stark and extra security around him so we won't be caught unawares if he tries something like that again." Bruce's eyes flicked up for a moment to look at the other occupant of his secret facility, Natash Romanoff, whose presence he still didn't like, "Coulson is moving in on Stane tonight so this should all be wrapped up before sunrise."

"Hmph," Bruce grunted as finished working on his belt and his suit's support equipment, moving to assemble the whole costume back together.

"Am I missing something?" Nat glanced at Alfred the old butler just gave her a friendly smile that she couldn't help but return. "This Nyssa Raatko has dropped off the map, we have no chatter or intel about any attack on Stark and like I said he is surrounded by a lot of security, his own and the clandestine one's we've set up."

"Nyssa provoked Stark to see what he made and what he made just blasted apart a very well organised and very entrenched. So she will be coming for it and nothing you are Stark have will even slow her down." Bruce spoke as he locked all of the pieces of suit back together and quickly examined it to make sure everything was in place "That's not even to mention the hornet's nest Stark just kicked with his actions, the Ten Ring's have been dormant for the past few years, Afghanistan was an announcement they were back and Tony just stomped all over that."

"So you think she'll make a move soon?" Nat asked looking at the suit that seemed to tower over Bruce even though it was built to fit him exactly

"She's already making her moves," Bruce replied moving over to the monitors typing a few strokes on the keyboard which brought up an image of a camp, two individual in the base had their pictures were enlarged, one was Stane the other was Nyssa "This was 2 days ago, Stane and Nyssa met in one of her bases in Northern Pakistan, Stane went back to the US the next day with cargo and had his men start working on something. I believe he is trying to recreate Tony's ar-"

Bruce cut himself off as he was just bringing up the image of schematics that Coulson had received from Pepper's infiltration of Stane's computer. His sudden cut off was also accompanied by him twisting around and throwing a bat shaped projectile right past Nat's head towards the elevator that acted as the area's entrance. Nat turned and pulled her side arm aiming it at whatever Bruce was attacking, her mind summoning images of armed soldiers swarming out the elevator or else a dozen of Ubu's coming to kill Bruce like the one she had met in Vegas.

"AWWWW!" Nat blinked as instead of a horde of Ten Ring soldiers or even one Ubu she saw… a girl? "I mean…hi?"

She couldn't be any older than 7, she had dark jet black hair that went down to her shoulders and had soft brown eyes, clearly Asian features but what drew Nat's eyes was what the girl was dressed in. It was a simple jeans and shirt combo but both pieces were mismatched, the jeans were a size too big for her and the T-shirt was clearly a boys one by design. Glancing at the girls clearly too big sneakers and the backpack she was wearing Nat knew what the girl was, she was a runaway Nat had seen hundreds like her over the years. The girl was currently pinned to the wall next to the elevator she had somehow appeared in front of without making a sound or alerting anyone, although she didn't like Bruce she thought he was the only man she met that could possibly match Barton for accuracy. He had managed to hit the collar of the girls shirt so precisely that it had pinned her to the wall without touching her skin.

No one spoke for a second as Bruce's eyes narrowed at the girl before quickly glancing around the room trying to see if this was a trap or an ambush, he knew a lot of people who weren't above using a child as a distraction. His eyes however didn't find any threat only seeing a slightly askew panel located in the far right corner of the room they were in, Bruce's eyes glanced back at the girl as he recalled the plans for base and realised the girl had crawled through the vent system. He then suddenly approached her his powerful long strides echoing across the room causing the girl to freeze from her attempt to free herself.

"Hi…I'm sorry for dropping in, I just uh…." The girls voice was meek and almost silent as she tried to recall what on earth had gone through head when she had decided to run away and find this man. "My name is"

"Xialing." Bruce stated bluntly as he suddenly flicked out his hand and easily removed the batarang from the wall as he stood tall over the small 6 year old his face cast in darkness as he cast a shadow over her "Xu Xialing, only daughter of Xu Wenwu, leader of the Ten Rings and Ying Li, former guardian of Ta Lo. You look like your mother….. How did you find me?"

"You knew my mother?" Xialing asked, her eyes widening as she looked up at the demon that had threatened her father and lived, not with fear but an ember of hope.

"Yes, I did." Bruce released a small sigh as he recognised the look in the girl's eyes he had seen reflected in the mirror many times but pushed it away to focus on the important issue "Answer the question. How do you know who I am and how did you find me here?"

"My father has a library. I snuck in there and started looking through his journals, he called you Khufaash and mentioned Talia so I just looked for those names. I found them in one, and in it he called you 'Bruce Wayne'." Xialing took a deep breath and answered as honestly as she could keeping her eyes fixed on Bruce's without breaking his steady gaze "So I looked you up, I was going to go to Gotham to your house but a couple of days ago my father got really mad and started ordering people to go to Los Angeles. I found plans for this place and few others so I took them and came here…..I'm good at sneaking around, I get around my father's base without being seen"

"So I guess this super secret bunker of yours isn't so super secret." Nat quipped as she crossed her arms knowing this was serious but not missing an opportunity to take a shot at Bruce.

He just turned and gave her a brief glare that did nothing to stop the smirk on Nat's face before he turned back to the girl who had snuck a peek at her. She would admit that the man did scare her, not in the sense of actual fear but in the sense she didn't feel confident she could take him in a fight, something that was incredibly rare. However, that didn't stop her from needling him when she could, the man although whole galaxies away from the fake Bruce Wayne playboy persona he had created was still arrogant and condescending just in a more less charming way.

"Miss Xu, can I ask how did you arrive in Los Angeles?" Alfred's calm measured voice caused Bruce to step back from the girl, the man coming to walk over to her with a friendly smile on his face "Your father's base is very far from here and it does not appear you came here with his blessing."

"Well…..I'm good at sneaking, so I hid on the plane my dad sent, and when it got here I got away and made my way here," Xialing answered she even managed to smile at

"All by yourself?" Alfred took a knee so that he was more level with the smaller girl, his eyes flicking over her making an examination of the girl, she gave him a slight nod "You are very brave, young lady. This plane you were on, there were men on it, yes? Are they coming here?"

"No, they were going to someplace call Stark Industries," Xialing answered trying to remember everything she had heard her father say, he had been very angry at the time "I don't know what they were after my father said something about a suit and making sure someone else doesn't get it first."

Alfred looked her in the eyes holding them for a moment before he gave her a small friendly smile and stood up. He shared a look with his now grown ward giving the man a nod. Bruce looked at Alfred before looking back down at the girl, he knew what the game was, both Nyssa and Wenwu wanted the suit Tony had made. Nyssa had the advantage that she had Stane in her pocket, likely he had already built a suit using the prototype designs she had recovered but Wenwu was working off emotion his organisation had been humiliated and so he would throw a lot at them to make up for it.

Stark enterprises was about to turn into a warzone as everyone fought over Tony's latest and greatest creation, the only thing that could possibly slow down the conflict was that power source for Tony's weapon was one of a kind. The miniaturised ARC reactor was technology beyond anyone on the planet, anyone except Tony Stark, so before anyone could claim the suit they were going to have to claim Tony Stark first.

However, that wasn't the issue that was facing Bruce at the moment, no his current issue was the very small 6 year old girl in front of him that had just ran away from home. Bruce had encountered this problem more than once before in his duties as Batman and the solution was usually easy: take the girl home or take her to social services. He knew neither of those options would work, there were no social services on the planet that could protect the girl from her father's organisation and taking her home was not an option. He hadn't seen any marks on the girl or signs of physical abuse but he had seen her brother the boy was being trained hard or the verge of torture and all that training was aimed at one goal: turn the boy into a killer. Wenwu appeared to have little concern or care for his daughter which made the situation worse, Bruce didn't know what punishment the girl would face for dishonouring her father in Wenwu's warped view. He knew she would receive one though if she went back and given Wenwu's disregard for her he didn't want to find out.

"Why did you come to me?" Bruce asked

"Because I'm….I'm scared." Xialing word's were almost too quiet to hear but she then glanced up and met Bruce's eyes "I'm alone and I saw you, saw how my father looked at you…..I don't want to be scared anymore"

"Agent Romanoff, I would advise you to get over to Stark Industries and support Coulson. He's going to need the help." Bruce turned away from the girl and walked over to the workbench where he had been assembling his suit, "Alfred take Xialing get her a warm meal and bed we will figure out what to do with her after the present crisis has passed."

"Of course sir," Alfred gave a nod of his head as he turned his attention back to the girl in question who he saw now glancing at the display case in the room making a mental note to keep a very close eye on the girl.

"And what are you going to be doing?" Nat asked her tone showing she was not liking that she was being ordered around by Bruce but also wasn't going to go against it.

"I am going to do what I always do," Bruce didn't look at the red room trained assassin as he picked up his armoured cowl sliding it over his head as he adorned the rest of his suit "Protect people"

(Tony Stark's Mansion - Malibu California - Early hours 21st May 2009)

Tony was feeling exhausted as he walked up the stairs from the basement workshop/garage, his suit had taken more damage than he had thought. It was at least partially operational again, still not 100% but it was good enough for the moment and he was too exhausted to continue. As he climbed the stairs he stretched out his arms and moved towards his couch, he wanted to go to sleep but his bedroom was too far for the moment and besides the couch had a half eaten Pizza still in the box. He flopped down on the designer couch regretting that he chose style over comfort, something he was going to rectify when he next spoke to Pepper as the italian leather did nothing to provide comfort.

"Oh come on Happy, not cool man"

Tony groaned as he opened the pizza box only to find it empty, clearly his head of security had eaten the last of the pizza before going home for the night or morning as he looked at his phone seeing the time. He was debating what to do. He was exhausted, hungry and looking at the time Pepper would be waking him up in only a few hours, so he was debating whether eating at this point was worth it. As if thinking about her was a cosmic trigger his phone suddenly buzzed now that he was out of the basement and could see that Pepper had tried calling over 2 dozen times and was trying to reach him again. Just as he was about to answer the line his phone suddenly went dead, causing him to frown. He may have been a little distracted for the past few days but he could have sworn his phone had been nearly fully charged.

"Jarvis can you call Pep-" Tony suddenly froze as a high pitched ringing noise sounded out as his whole body went stiff and suddenly he couldn't move.

"It's a shame the government didn't approve this little device. There's so many applications for causing short-term paralysis," Obadiah Stane appeared out of the corner of Tony's eye along with a woman in what looked like green leather armour carrying a sword on her hip and bow on her back. "I have to hand it to you though Tony I thought the Jericho missile was something but then you go and make me look like a fool."

Stane strode forward confidently as the woman halted a little back from the coffee table that Stane walked past taking a seat next to Tony. As he sat down next to the paralysed man he showed Tony the sonic taser that Tony had developed years ago but abandoned when the government had passed on the idea. Stane flicked the device shut and took out the protective ear buds as he did Tony noticed that there were more people in the room, as if walking out of the shadows the room was now filled with a least dozen men dressed like the woman just in black instead of green.

"Ah yes, these are your silent partners Tony, the people that made you richer than even your father" Stane answered seeing Tony glancing at the men and the woman, he loved that he could now get rid of the annoyance that held him back for years and gloat whilst doing it "You actually owe Nyssa here your life, I just wanted you dead but she kept you alive for some revenge plan of hers. Truth be told I don't really understand it but the results were worth it. The golden goose laid one more egg"

Tony tried to move any part of his body as Stane held up his hand resulting in someone behind them Tony couldn't see to pass Stane a large circle device with claw-like protrusions. Stane just smirked as unceremoniously ripped opened Tony's shirt and placed the device over the ARC reactor in his chest. Tony felt his whole body was on fire as he tried with every fibre of his being to move as Stane's device ripped the reactor from his chest, he would have screamed if not for the paralysis, something that Stane could see and took sick pleasure in. The older man took the reactor from the device and held it up for Tony to see, this was his moment of triumph where he would move beyond the Starks and their stupid moral objections and take his place in the world, with this device he wouldn't need anyone, not Nyssa or Bruce Wayne with this he would be unstoppable.

"This'll be your legacy, Tony. Imagine if your father had been as selfish as you with his creations. The best minds we had couldn't do this, but you could. The key to a whole new generation of weap-ARGH!" Tony felt his eye sting as he wasn't able to close as a spray of blood erupted from Stane's neck.

Tony watched as the man he had thought of as a mentor and friend for years, the man who was betraying him, betrayed himself. The reactor fell from Stane's hand but was caught by Nyssa easily as she lifted up the knife she had plunged through the back of Stane's neck to be cleaned, which one her men quickly did. Stane's eyes went wide before he fell backwards onto the floor unable to stem the tide of blood flowing from his neck, he twitched for a few moments before going still. Nyssa looked over Tony whose face was covered in blood and gestured for one of her men to remove it so that she could speak to him.

"I apologise for that, but the man had served his purpose and I hate hearing men gloat," Nyssa spoke softly as she returned the knife to its place on the back of her belt and sat on the coffee table in front of Tony "It is a shame that you have to die, I have met some of the greatest minds in history and its shame when they die before their time. However, given your recent actions I doubt you'd approve of what I am going to do with this, it's clear you have a moral streak. Such a shame. I believe we could have done great things together."

"W-wh…who are y…you?" Tony managed to gasp out the words looking at the woman he had never seen before who held his greatest creation in her hands.

"That is a very complex answer, which doesn't matter because you are about to die." Nyssa gave Tony a sad smile as she stood up placing the Arc reactor into a box that one of men brought over to her "Now please excuse me your deceased mentor's creation is waiting for me at your facility, I am eager to try it and am on a bit of a clock now."

"What should we do with him, mistress?" Nyssa turned to look at the Ubu she had brought to lead this team of men, his hand pointing to the dying Tony.

"Leave him. Khufaash is likely on his way, and caring for this one will slow him down.`` Nyssa started moving towards the door, her mind racing knowing that she was contending with not only SHIELD and the Ten Rings but Bruce as well. "Leave six men, the rest with me. We must claim our prize and leave before we can be stopped."

Tony watched as Nyssa left with her men through the front door, he briefly saw several bodies outside on his driveway guessing they were part of the security detail that Happy had set up. He wasn't sure how long he laid on his couch, his eyes glanced around the room at the men that looked more like statues than people as they didn't move. He kept trying to move, willing his body to do anything rather than just lay there, he suddenly felt himself move as his body suddenly obeyed his command. He wanted to say that it was dramatic that he leapt up and was able to strike one of his captors but in truth he just flopped to the floor. The action caused one of the black clad men to come over to him as Tony tried desperately to reach the basement, to the spare Reactor Pepper had framed for him.

"Pathetic, we should end you no-" The black clad man suddenly dropped to the floor as gunfire sounded out as the room exploded into action.

Tony looked up and saw that Rhodey had arrived most likely a result of him not answering Peppers 2 dozen calls and upon seeing the deceased security team in the front yard he had come in charging. Rhodey was firing in quick succession and Tony made a mental note to make sure his best friend's next birthday party was epic as he continued trying to reach the basement, the failing of pain in his chest driving him on. However, Rhodey's brief moment of heroics didn't last long as after dropping the first man the others sprang into action and moved in a blur, Rhodey's expert marksmanship failed to hit a single one until suddenly he found his gun empty. The moment the audible click sounded out Rhodey found himself struck hard by a series of punches that collapsed him to the floor as one his assailants pulled out a sword and pressed it to the back of Rhodey's neck. Tony was about to cry out as he saw Rhodey about to be decapitated but was stopped as suddenly the sword stopped mid-swing.

"Khuffash" Rhodey's attacker spoke the strange word as he turned to see the massive black clad figure that had grabbed his hand and then proceeded to strike the man in the face.

Rhodey's attacker flew back and slammed against the far wall crumpling to the floor. Rhodey's saviour turned to face the room, his eyes darting to Tony for a brief second before he strode forward placing himself in the middle of the remaining men. Rhodey and Tony didn't move from their prone positions on the floor as for a second no one moved before suddenly one of the men darted forward swinging a sword at the black armoured man in a cape. Tony wasn't sure what happened but quicker than his mind could work the cape wearing man seemed to have moved to strike his attacker and knock him out then returned to his original position as if he hadn't moved.

"Last chance to leave," Batman spoke, the powerful gruff dark voice vibrating off of the walls, his words causing the few remaining men to look at each other before they suddenly moved as one.

Batman was a blur of motion as he lifted his hands from beneath his cape with a pair of batarangs in each hand that he used to block the attacks. He let out an uncomfortable grunt as he twisted and turned dodging and blocking the strikes before unleashing his own, to both Rhodey and Tony the black clad man was a blur. The fight lasted only a few moments before Batman managed to strike each of the remaining men hard enough that they went down, leaving Batman the victor. He managed to control his breathing not wanting to show that the fight had been tougher than he had made it look and that he had certainly started to slow down.

"TONY!" Rhodey managed to get to his feet and raced over to his friend ignoring the black armoured man as he rushed to Tony's side, he froze touching the man seeing the hole in Tony's chest. "Oh god, don't move, we can, we can fix this."

"The basement," Tony managed to eke out as he tried to keep moving, needing to find the device that could save his life. "Reactor"

Rhodey looked to the stairs but before he could move the large man that had saved his life was already moving his black cloak billowing behind him. Bruce was down the stairs in the blink of an eye and with a power kick smashed opened the door that was keeping him from Tony's basement workshop. Once he was through the door, he resisted a sigh as he saw the mechanised war suit Tony had created just on display in the middle of the room with another earlier silver model tucked lazily into a corner. Tony was just as arrogant and lazy as ever, however he pushed that thought to one side as he scanned the room for what he needed and quickly saw it placed on the table by Tony's main workbench. He moved quickly over to the large glass case that held Tony's first reactor and had an inscription around it that read Proof that Tony Stark has a heart.

Bruce easily smashed open the case and retrieved the Reactor however he froze for a second as he held the device in his hand. This was the quantum leap forward to everything that he, Howard, Lucuis and Anton had poured decades into, with this in his hand he could take the next step and really change the wor-. NO! The powerful voice sounded in his head from the dark depths of his mind, it was the voice that always sounded when he walked close to the edge, when he came close to failing the mission.

A man is dying and we don't trade lives for anything, especially not vague notions of changing the world.

"It's going to be alright we just need to get to the hospital," Rhodey tried lifting Tony the act proving difficult not due to Tony's weight but the man not wanting to hurt his

"Move aside." Batman appeared pushing Rhodey aside as knelt over Tony placing the Reactor into the hole into his chest.

Tony let out a gasp of relief as he felt the searing pain in his chest stop and found himself looking up at his saviour, his very scary, very Bat themed saviour who just stood up now that he was okay. Tony blinked ignoring the sheer insanity that had just happened in the last few moments as he stood up on shaky legs, Rhodey quickly moving to help him. However, any thought

"Where's Pepper?" Tony asked, coughing as he looked to Rhodey after glancing at the tall black armoured man who had moved over towards the couch.

"She's fine, she's with a bunch of agents they are about to arrest Obadiah," Rhodey

"No there not," Batman spoke, stepping to one side showing the body of Stane lying unceremoniously on the floor. "Was there a woman here with Stane?"

"Yes, he called her Nyssa. She took my Reactor, I think Stane built a suit and she's going to steal it" Tony replied with his eyes examining the man who had saved his life, there was something oddly familiar about the man like he had seen him before. "Who the hell are you?"

Batman just looked at the two men before moving towards the large windows that led to the balcony, he merely exited onto the balcony and took his grapnel from his belt and pointed towards the sky. Tony felt the room tremble slightly as some sort of aircraft appeared just above the manor, it being near invisible in the dark black sky. Batman shot his cable up to the craft, then turned around.

"Stay here, I'll deal with this"

Bruce wasted no time plotting his course to the Stark headquarters as he jetted over the city he hoped he could get there in time to stop Nyssa from taking the suit Stane had made and unleashing it upon the world. He was about to try to raise Romanoff over the comms to see how the storming of the facility was going, hopefully they had moved fast enough to secure the facility before Nyssa had arrived, however an incoming channel sounded before he had time to react.

"Master Wayne we have a slight problem," The Wayne family butler's ever steady voice sounded out from the

"If it's about the horde of assassins descending on Stark HQ I am aware of it," Bruce grunted out as he pushed the throttle of his plane more trying to move as swiftly as possible to get to the site.

"Ah, well then we have two problems then," Alfred remarked, a sigh escaping his lips as he reflected on how this whole situation had spiralled into the usual mess they dealt with.

"Two? What's the second?" Bruce asked in alarm his voice slipping back to normal

"Miss Xialing proved more elusive than I thought. She is very skilled for a 6 year old," Alfred's voice had a very rare note of failure and regret in it "I am sorry sir, but she took Miss Barbara's old suit and its locator has her heading towards Stark's main facility. I am sorry, I failed you.

"Great," Bruce grunted as he pushed the plane even faster as he now needed to ensure another person wasn't added to the casualty list of his war.

(Stark Industries Headquarters - Los Angeles, California - Same time)

Nat was not liking this assignment at all, in fact, this assignment was fast approaching to replace Budapest as her least favourite assignment of all time. She dodged another weird dart blade that shot past her head as she lifted her own gun and shot the ninja looking individual that had just tried to kill her. As she turned her head she saw that Coulson was holding his own against the sheer lunacy they found themselves in as he shielded Pepper Potts from the threeway battle they found themselves in.

When they had arrived the facility had seen fairly normal if a bit quiet, she had been largely feeling superfluous, especially when they had rushed in and had easily detained the few sleepy security guards. However, that had changed quickly when they had entered the secured area that Pepper had discovered Stane had closed off for the last few weeks and discovered a full on battle occuring within the hangar. It turned out that the Ten Rings had launched a clandestine assault on the hanagar to steal the suit Stane had made and Nyssa's forces had responded in kind trying to protect their Mistress's prize, turning the whole facility into a warzone that everyone outside was oblivious to.

Coulson had reacted quickly trying to extract his team from the situation to regroup and then reassess but unfortunately that had proved impossible and the SHIELD team had been sucked into the fight. The addition of a third side to the battle had caused the situation to spiral out of control and now the hangar and main courtyard were a sight of sprawling battle that the SHIELD side was not doing well in. Most of their agents were dead, they hadn't done anything wrong, they were simply outclassed and it had resulted in them being decimated, the only reason they were still technically in the fight was that the two other sides were fighting each other and Coulson's excellent leadership. Nat had to hand it to the man he was doing a great job leading what was left of his team, he had established a secured area around their vehicles and although their escape route was cut off he was holding on fairly well.

"Romanoff!" Coulson's call caused her to look back over to the man who suddenly gestured with a nod to point across the main yard near the entrance to the hangar they had been forced from.

She quickly spotted what he was indicating to. She could see the small force of warriors surrounding a woman in green forcing their way into the warehouse. Nat just nodded back to Coulson and made a run for the hangar breaking off from the SHIELD group and slipping through the chaos of the battlefield. It was one of the most difficult things she had ever done but sheer skill, determination and a bit of luck had taken her into the hangar. She reloaded her gun and saw that the hangar was now silent, a far cry from the pitched battle they had stumbled into only a little while ago. The area was completely dark; the only source of light was the dim glow of the large Arc Reactor that occupied part of the converted hangar.

Nat rolled out of the way of a sword strike lifting her gun shooting her would-be ambusher in the head causing him to collapse to the ground. She suddenly found herself in a fight all her own as several men lept from the shadows wielding knives and swords, it took all of her skill just to survive the initial onslaught. However, the tight spaces between computer banks and equipment aided her as it nullified her attackers advantage and meant that she could fight them largely one on one rather than all at once. She was precise and deadly with each shot not wasting a single chance when it presented itself taking out Nyssa's elite guards one after each other in quick succession.

"You are impressive,"

Nat held back a groan as the voice sounded out mere seconds after she dispatched her last foe, then she turned to see a very tall, broad-chested bald man she guessed was another Ubu.

"I shall give you the honour of a swift death."

"Oh how kind," Nat sighed as she lifted her pistol and started firing at the man who seemed to move with the same unnatural speed Bruce was able to move with despite his size, causing her to curse. "Shit"

Nat kept firing until her gun ran empty and then quickly switched to her Widow's Bite, electrifying the gauntlets as she knew what was coming next. The large Ubu suddenly slammed into her and she found herself in another fight with an opponent who was freakishly fast and agile for their size. However, she quickly discovered this opponent wasn't as skilled as her last one and she was able to get a series of well placed strikes in and even drew first blood, striking him hard on the temple slicing the skin next to his eye. Her triumph however didn't last long as the Ubu suddenly sprung forward, willingly taking a powerful strike to his face to knock her over and get his hand on her throat. Nat tried to pry the man off but to her alarm suddenly found herself being quickly choked to death and the world going dark

"What the ahh!" The Ubu suddenly released her as a small bat-shaped object lodged into his chest and released a powerful jolt of electricity that caused the man to shake before he collapsed.

"Oh god! I thought that was going to do something else!" Nat blinked and managed to get up to her knees and saw her saviour was a girl, a very small girl dressed in bat costume complete with mask, belt and cape.

"I am never telling Barton this one" Nat groaned as she stood up only for her to sway as suddenly the room shook as something inside moved, something large.

Nat didn't have to wait long for what it was as she moved forward and shielded the batgirl behind her as a colossal metal figure with a glowing bright circle of light in its chest appeared. Nat's eyes widened as she saw just how armoured and armed the figure was, it was carrying enough weapons to level a city and appeared built to take enough damage that the whole army would do little but scratch its paint. The figure stopped moving as it stood proudly

"Don't worry, I'll make sure you never get the chance," The large metal suit lifted a large hand as the circle in its middle started to glow brighter "Time to -BOOM!"

"Nyssa! This is between us!" Batman's gruff voice had accompanied the explosion that had harmlessly struck the metal goliath's head he had appeared on a catwalk above them. "You wanted me! Come and get me!"

"Oh with pleasure!" Nyssa's distorted voice sounded out as she leapt at Bruce eager to try her new weapon on him, viewing it as a good test run to see how it would hold up against her father. "I've wanted to do this since Talia brought you into the fold!"

Nat moved and all but dragged the unwilling Batgirl out of the building as it started to collapse as the two titans started battling. As she exited the building she could see that the fight outside had paused as the Ten Rings forces seemed to have vanished having failed to stop Nyssa getting her prize whilst her forces just stopped to watch the battle. Nat was transfixed as well as she watched Batman dance around the metal goliath unleashing powerful strikes and explosions against it that did nothing, whilst Nyssa easily barreled through everything in her path.

The climax came as Batman attempted to leap over her head, trying to plant an explosion as he did so only for one of Nyssa's metal hands to catch him and start squeezing. She could hear his suit starting to crack as Nyssa gleefully brought the other hand around him and started to squeeze as tightly as she could. The suit worked better than she could have ever dreamed and she was about to do something even her father never could, kill Batman.

"Any last word's Br-" Nyssa's triumphal statement again was stopped but this time not by Batman but by a blast from another person in a mechanised suit of armour.

"Hands off, don't you know strange men in bat costumes are endangered?" Tony's voice sounded from his suit as he rocketed in standing between Nyssa and Batman.

"I told you to stay," Batman's voice was a little hoarse as he stood up feeling more than a few of rubs had broken.

"... and apparently they are also not grateful," Tony smirked as he rocketed forward seeing Nyssa trying to get up once again.

The two metal suits clashed together, they unleashed powerful beams of energy that tore into the surrounding builds and into the sky. Tony quickly took the fight into the air but quickly regretted that as Nyssa, apparently a quick study, easily took to aerial combat and blasted him into the freeway next to the Stark Industries Facility, forcing him to save lives and fight her. He quickly realised he was outclassed both in terms of technology and sheer skill as this woman was easily beating him without really trying. He tried to blast her with a shot from his chest but she merely dodged that and blasted him back with a ray from her hand sending him craning into the air.

"Okay! I need a little help," Tony grunted as he was knocked back onto the roof and landed next to his black armoured bat themed saviour.

"What can I do?" Batman asked moving over to the man, his eyes fixed on the only lightly damaged Nyssa.

"I have an idea, get her over the reactor and I can end this."

Batman just nodded and without further words ran straight at Nyssa unleashing the last of his explosives and his Bataranags. It worked as Nyssa followed him ignoring Tony and his obsolete suit as she wanted to claim the prize of being the one to kill the supposedly undefeatable Batman. However, her pursuit blinded her to her surroundings as she suddenly felt the ground beneath her give way a little. She looked down and saw she was standing on creaking glass metal as she stood over the facility's large Arc Reactor. She turned as she heard Tony hovering in the air just behind her, she lifted her hand to blast him but never managed to as he shot first.

"Hey! Get off my building," Tony's words were accompanied by him blasting not Nyssa but striking between her feet into the heart of the large reactor beneath her.

The powerful wave of energy unleashed sent a bright column of light into the sky that fully engulfed her and then finally collapsed the building down.

(1 Week Later - Stark Enterprises Press Conference)

"So what do you think?" Nat asked the question as she offered the tall brooding man next to her the news paper whose front cover showed Tony's mechanised suit with the headline IRON MAN? in bold.

"The press are still unimaginative as always," Bruce grunted as he glanced at the paper and then back to the screen where Colonel James Rhodes was spewing the line about a test malfunction at the Stark site. "So has the agency created a decent cover for all of this?"

"Yeah luckily all the photos out there were of Tony's suit and his brief fight on the freeway, no one saw you or the many, many assassins wielding swords." "We can't keep his suit secret but we've come up with the cover that it's his bodyguard instead of him, that should hopefully protect him a little."

"Good, trust me the world isn't ready to deal with this stuff so openly yet," Bruce stated as he watched Rhodey wrap up his speech and made way for Tony to come out and do his part "What of Nyssa?"

"No sign we found the suit, it was charred and the arc reactor was present but smashed beyond repair but no sign of her." Nat relayed the information that didn't seem to surprise Bruce at all "What are you going to do with the girl? She save my life,"

"I don't know yet, it's complicated given who her father is and what's she's been through," Bruce sighed, not liking how that had played out and was still wrestling with how he had ended up with another person chasing his legacy "For the moment she stays with me, Wenwu isn't forgiving even to his own blood and I am the only one who can protect her from him."

Nat looked at the man and knew he was glossing over the real issue she had tried to address. She had seen the girl dressed up in the costume and rush headlong into danger, she had seen it before. Xialing hadn't gone to Bruce for protection she had gone to Bruce to learn from him, to become him and that was dangerous. She was a lot smarter and more skilled than a 6 year old should be and Nat was worried that even if Bruce did the right thing and refused to train her it wouldn't matter and that the girl would just train herself and end up on the same path just without guidance.

"I'm surprised you're here actually, I thought you'd head back to gotham first chance you got?" Nat changed the subject knowing that the subject of Xialing, although important, could wait for the moment.

"You don't know do you?" Bruce gave a rare smile as he watched Tony starting to answer a few questions about the incident last week.

"Know what?" Nat turned to look at the man her eye's narrowing at the man who seemed in a rare genuinely smug mood

"During this whole crisis, Stark Industries Stock was at an all time low and a lot of people were selling. So to keep Obaidah from getting a majority I bought every stock option that came up. Technically I own the same amount in the company as Tony." Bruce gave a chuckle as he revealed the news that he had kept under wraps but was sure would break very soon "You are looking at the new joint owner of Stark Industries. So, I'm here to support the company"

"Oh I bet Tony is going to love that," Nat chuckled already imagining how Tony Stark would react to the news he had to share his company with Bruce Wayne.

"I don't plan doing anything, I am just going to keep an eye on things, make sure Tony stays on the right path and doesn't do anything stupid," Bruce turned his attention back to the screen as Tony held up a card he was reading from but then suddenly stopped lowered the card and looked right into the camera.

"I am Iron Man," Tony's statement caused the press to explode into questions and photos. Nat's eyes widened and she glanced at Bruce who had very clearly slipped into being Batman again as a shadow covered his face.

"What did he just say?!"