Disclaimer: I don't own any of the rights to anything Iron Man, that right goes to Marvel Studios/Comics. I don't own any of the rights to anything dealing with the Witchblade that right goes to Top Cow Productions. The only thing I claim as mine is any original characters I created and the plot of this particular story. No copy right infringement is meant. This is for fun and not for money.

Rated T: For language and romance.

A/N: Here is the conclusion to my humble, little story. I tried to tie things up and get to a conclusion. It is so thrilling to say that I have actually finished another story. I am slightly melancholy about it as well, however. I have been working on the story for almost a year now, and even though it is a great accomplishment to me to have it done, I'm sorry to see it end.

I have a big favor to ask of my readers. Since this is the last chapter of my story, can as many of you as possible please leave a parting review for me? Just take a few short minutes to let me know what you think about either this last chapter and/or the whole story in general. This will be the last chance I will get to really hear what readers think. Also, I enjoyed writing this story so much that if inspiration strikes me and when I get some other stories finished, I might write a sequel. If when you leave a review, could readers please weigh in if they would like me to write another story with Tony interacting with Violet and the Witchblade universe? I would really appreciate it so very much.

Thanks need to go once more to AblatedCrayon for his tireless effort to help my work come forward. He not only helped me fix all my silly mistakes and offered well-thought out advice, but his support and encouragement really made a difference for me. Thanks, as well go to RID3RLVR (Ari) for double-checking everything and her wonderfully supportive attitude and encouragement. I want to thank all my readers and reviewers too, for making writing this story a grand adventure. You all rock!

-Ladyhawke Legend

Chapter 20

An Unholy Alliance

It wasn't that Kenneth Irons didn't admire the beauty with him in his bed, or that she didn't bed him well, but she just didn't measure up. She was a willing student in all the arts he had to teach her, but she wasn't who he really wanted. She filled the space for the time being, was a warm body to have on cold nights, but Vanessa was not Violet. As he observed her sleeping form pressed up against his own, he was suddenly overcome by the desire to strangle her, choke the life out of her. He calmly resisted the urge, but let it play out in his mind for some form of satisfaction.

Irons was angry at her for going and confronting Violet at the hospital the way she had. It had been too impetuous, something only someone young and inexperienced would do. That was Vanessa Devonshire to a tee. Her enthusiasm often outstripped her common sense, which was how he had gained control over her in the first place. Vanessa had, however, revealed to him that Violet's resolve was weakening. She had been willing to give the Witchblade away, even after she had survived the Periculum. Her love for her little sister would be her undoing. Vanessa was the key to breaking Violet completely, and compelling her to come back to him. Vanessa would live, for a while longer, until Violet and the Witchblade were his once again.

The platinum blonde, multibillionaire was also sorely disappointed in both Ian Nottingham and Jack Chambers, but less with Chambers than Nottingham. Jack had done a good job keeping Violet occupied, while Ian went after Stark. He somehow dueled with her and the Witchblade, miraculously keeping up with both wielder and the ancient weapon thanks to his exposure to the Black Dragon experiment. Irons wished that his CFO could have stalled her just a little longer, so Violet wouldn't have had enough time to get Stark away from the EMP bomb. Irons was happy to hear that Ian had been able to seriously wound Stark, but somehow the technical genius knew about Ian's one weakness, and at the last minute, used it against him. His plan had been so perfect, but it always seemed to happen that no one could carry it out to his liking or to its success. Vanessa had at least done her part in that affair very well.

Nonetheless, Irons needed Violet and soon. He had to have more and more frequent injections of a serum made from Sara Pezzini's blood to stay alive and looking in his prime. Violet's blood would soon be his only source of the fountain of youth he had stumbled across in his dealings with the Witchblade; a way to cheat death. Irons wondered just how much longer he could wait until it was too late. He didn't want to find out.

Pulling away from Vanessa, he laid on his back, centering himself on Violet. If she was at odds with the blade again, he might be able to use his tentative connection to her to invade her mind or her dreams if she was sleeping. He could feel her essence faintly, as if through a thick fog. He concentrated harder and found her.

She immediately sensed him and tried force him out, but he grasped the thread of his connection to her and held fast, throwing up a mental barrier to distract the Witchblade for a moment. For a short time Violet was his, even if it would be fleeting.

"Why must you always fight me so, Violet?" he questioned her as he pictured her in Vanessa's place in his bed. He grabbed her around her upper torso, pinning her arms at her sides from behind.

"I won't let you do this, Irons. I won't!" she shouted at him, struggling mightily to get away from him. "You have no power over me."

He smiled into her neck, letting her feel his entire body slide along hers. "Don't I? You willing tried to give the Witchblade away to a Pretender, not a real wielder. That lets me get my foot in the door."

His statement made Violet work to get away that much more, but he held her fast, languishing in how she rubbed against him. He had to bite his lip to keep from moaning. "This can all end, if you just give yourself to me," he tempted her. "I'll even let Vanessa go if you do. She doesn't have to die, Violet."

That halted her resistance. "Please don't hurt her. Please," Violet begged, letting him turn her to face him.

"I won't, if you agree to serve me," he offered, indulging in kissing her neck, chin, and then her lips. That caused her to squirm again. "All you have to do is say yes. One simple, easy word. Be mine, Violet, and Vanessa is free."

For one split second he thought she was going to actually say it, but then pain burst throughout his mind, burning and searing. He felt the Witchblade lash out at him violently and full of anger. It severed his connection with Violet once and for all, unleashing power Irons had never felt before. The pain tore through his entire nervous system causing him to writhe in agony. His interlocking circle scar burned as if his blood were on fire. He finally cried out, overcome with suffering he had never experienced before.

Your days are numbered, Usurper, Evil One, the Witchblade spat at him. Be warned. You've stolen what is not yours, tried to defy the laws of nature. Well, no more. Then the Witchblade withdrew completely, taking back everything he had ever gained from it. A fiery power ripped it from him in a torturous pull and twist. He no longer could feel Violet or the Witchblade. They were gone, and nothing remained.

Vanessa awoke to his convulsing and screaming. What she saw terrified her. She screamed as she watched him age rapidly into an old, crippled, and wasted being. Ian Nottingham came barreling into the room to see his master huddled and shaking as Vanessa got off the bed and backed away from him. Nottingham didn't know what to do; he was too shocked to move.

"What's happening to him?" Vanessa asked hysterically.

"Get Dr. Krauss," Irons rasped with a weak and pathetic voice. "Now, Ian!" he demanded of Nottingham, but it came out more like a squawk than a harsh command.

"Yes, master," Nottingham said obediently. He bolted from the room to get Irons' personal physician.

This couldn't be happening. The Witchblade couldn't do this to him. He would find a way to overcome it. He would not die, not now, not like this. His body spasmed in protest, trying to convince him he was dying.

Tony, Violet, and Pepper had all collapsed on his white circular couch in his circular living room. The doctor had released Tony from the hospital and finally let him go home, after reading him the riot act for having sex in the hospital. Pepper about clobbered him when she found out, and she wasn't very happy with Violet either. If I get one more ass chewing, I won't be able to sit down ever again, Tony joked to himself, forcing his guilt away. He had messed up, been cocky, and underestimated his opponent. He would not do it again.

They had all driven home in silence in Tony's Rolls Royce Phantom limo with Happy in the driver's seat. Rhodey had retrieved all the Iron Man armor and brought it back to Tony's house and placed it in his workshop. Once home and through the door, Tony, Violet, and Pepper only made it to the couch before they all had to sit or lay down. Tony was walking and moving just fine, but the whole experience had left him trashed; Violet and Pepper too, now that things had settled down. They had slept a little at the hospital, but it was not nearly enough.

Pepper was the first one to notice that Violet was having a nightmare. She tried to wake Violet, but the young thief wouldn't revive. Pepper whacked Tony awake to help her help Violet. When Violet didn't response to Tony either, they really started to worry. The nightmare seemed to get worse and worse. Tony went to embrace her to comfort her, but she fought and railed against him in her sleep. He had a strange feeling Irons had something to do with this.

Violet needed help and fast. He grabbed hold of her wrist and the Witchblade, trying to will the blade to come to her aid. At his touch the Witchblade fired to life, glowing, swirling, and whispering. It compelled Tony to touch Violet's hand to his chest piece. As he did so, he felt a jolt of electricity run straight through him, and then a slight pull from the Witchblade. A couple of its vine-like appendages went through his shirt and hooked themselves to the arc reactor. It was tapping into his power source for some reason, using it to amply its own power. Violet shuddered a few times, and then she lay still.

"Vi, come on, wake up, honey," Tony urged her.

Tony's personal assistant had gone and gotten a towel, dousing it with cold water. She mopped Violet's forehead with it, as the wielder came to. "Tony?!" Violet said confused.

"Hey there," he greeted her clearing blue eyes. "You okay? You gave Pepper and me quite a scare. What happened?"

"Irons used his connection with the Witchblade to try to take over my mind, I think," Violet answered, still trying to focus on Tony's face. "The Witchblade stopped him."

Pepper and Tony looked knowingly at each other, and then down at Tony's chest. "Yeah, it decided to use me to boost its strength," Tony told Violet. The Witchblade then retracted itself and settled back into its bracelet form.

"Really?" Violet said in disbelief. "You helped it save me?"

"I guess so," Tony said, liking to be the hero again. "What did it do?"

Violet's brow creased. "I'm not sure, but it seemed to force him to return to his true age. He's like a ninety year old man. I don't think he'll be around much longer."

"That's a good thing, right?" Pepper chimed in.

"It should be," Violet replied. "With him out of the picture, Vorschlag and his empire will be in turmoil for quite some time. It will take a great deal of reorganizing and restructuring. There will be many who will want his throne—Chambers included, I would think."

"Then you should be able to help Vanessa now," Pepper pointed out to Violet. "She won't be under his influence anymore, and seeing him after he's aged like that will have to make her doubt all he's told her."

"God I hope so," Violet commented, letting Tony fully embrace her now, cuddling into him.

Tony had another encouraging thought. "That means he won't be able to threaten, hunt, or hurt you anymore. If he dies, Violet, you'll finally be free of him. He won't be able to interfere with your life ever again. I think the Witchblade just did you a big favor."

Violet looked Tony in the eye for a long time and weighed his words carefully. "You're saying that I shouldn't give up on it. That I should continue to trust it. That it's really looking out for me in its own twisted and messed up way."

He laughed at her last statement. If she only knew how much the Witchblade has come to care for her, she wouldn't feel that way, he thought to himself. Then out loud he said to her, "It chose you for a reason, Violet. There was something about you or in you that called out to it; something good and something noble. Trust in that."

Pepper eyes grew wide at the sagely advice coming out of her boss' mouth. How did he learn such wisdom? she wondered. His words seemed to make a deep impression on Violet, for the wielder was looking at him with astonishment and a little awe.

"You been into the fortune cookies again?" Pepper couldn't help but joke.

Tony gave her an irritated look. "No, but I read the horoscope section in the newspaper this morning," he retorted in jest.

That got a snicker out of Violet, which was music to Tony's ears. "Well, wherever it came from, you're probably right. I'll try to remember that," she told him.

"That I'm right?" Tony asked hopefully, still in a teasing mode.

"Maybe one out of ten times," Pepper ribbed him. "I think she meant about trusting in why the Witchblade picked her as its wielder, Mr. Stark."

Tony pretended to act deflated. "Oh, well that's important to remember too," he glibly admitted.

"Rosa has just informed me that the beds have been prepared for you so you all can get some rest," Jarvis' savvy British accent informed them. "You might be better off physically sleeping there than on the couch. And may I say, welcome home, sir."

"Thanks, Jarvis," Tony said and yawned. "That sounds like a fantastic suggestion. It's great to be home too. I'm glad to see that you were able to download yourself back into the house's mainframe once Rhodey returned the suit to the workshop." Then he turned to Pepper. "You're staying here at least the rest of today and tonight. I want to know that you're safe and secure after all that's happened, Miss Potts."

Pepper smiled at Tony's kind gesture. "I think I could be talked into that, Mr. Stark," she replied. "I'll stay. In fact, I might try a shower, some tea, and then be off to Slumberville, if you don't mind."

"Make yourself at home, and don't you dare try to do any work," Tony admonished her. "I'll sick Agent Coulson on you, if you do."

"As long as he's handling emails, phones calls, and busy bodies, I'll let him deal with all that stress. I do need a break," Pepper said, deciding not to argue. She really didn't think she could form coherent thoughts much longer anyway. Agent Coulson was more than capable to do her job for a day. That would make her rest easier for sure. "I'll see you two later," she added as she forced herself back up off the couch and toward the guest bedroom that was like home away from home. Tony had always been thoughtful enough to keep a room available just for her use when she was working late for him.

"That shower idea sounds mighty appealing to me too," Violet commented, still lying against Tony. "I'm afraid, however, that I might not have the strength right now to take one, by myself."

Tony didn't hesitate to take that opening. "Maybe I could help. You know, I wash your back and you wash mine," he said it innocently, but the look in his eyes was anything but innocent.

"I was hoping you'd agree to that, T," she purred, turning and kissing him lightly on the lips.

"Then what are we waiting for," he said, finding a new excited energy to get him up off the couch. "Let's get going." He reached out his hand and pulled her to her feet. He kissed her as she came into a full standing position.

"Your carnal appetite never ceases to amaze me, Tony," she said with a silly smile, as he started to lead her, with his arm around her waist, to the stairs going up to the second level and his bedroom.

"Me either," he kidded, and they both laughed.

Violet decided she didn't like Three Star Lieutenant General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross. He was too hard-lined, hardcore military for her tastes. On the outside he seemed like a nice gentlemen and officer, with his tall frame, broad shoulders and chest, blonde hair and moustache that was going gray, and his cool blue eyes. Even his olive green uniform with all the stripes, pins, and colored marking was pressed and neat. However, Ross did not act nice; he was curt, condescending, judgmental, and a know-it-all. The military and being in its service was his whole life, not leaving room for much else. He was a gruff, buzzard of a man, in Violet's opinion.

No wonder Banner is on the run from this guy. I'd want to stay as far away from him as possible too, Violet thought to herself sitting in an Edwards Air Force Base conference room. Rhodey had suggested using his base of operations as their meeting place.

Ross had received a tip on a possible location for the Hulk-transforming Dr. Bruce Banner. Witnesses had reported seeing a green giant in the woods of Bella Coola, British Columbia, Canada a few days ago. Normally, Ross would assemble a strike team to go check the sighting out and try and capture Banner if the tip turned out to be real. Now, however, with SHIELD and Tony Stark looking over his shoulder, he had to play the game a different way.

"I think Miss Devonshire and I would have a much better chance at getting Banner to come in voluntarily than you would," Tony was telling Ross. The weapons genius had chosen to wear a charcoal-gray, pin-striped suit and tie to look stylish and like he meant business at the same time. It was a look Tony Stark knew how to pull of brilliantly.

Ross merely glared back at Tony and said nothing. While the General appreciated Stark's intellectual creativity and dependable manufacturing of stellar weapons to the military, he was wishing he had not agreed to Stark's proposal that day in the bar when he was half-way drunk. He felt like his hands were being tied behind his back; he didn't like not being in total control of an operation. Banner, as the Hulk, had exhibited some capacity to be heroic, saving lives instead of taking them, but he still had his doubts, and he wanted the secret in Banner's blood. Even though his experiment with Emil Blonsky had turned into an absolute nightmare, Ross blamed the man's character, not the science, for the chaotic mess that had resulted in the Abomination. Ross still wanted to weaponize the gamma radiation's effect on human cellular make up.

"In other words, he won't take off running when he sees someone like Miss Devonshire coming up to him. She and Mr. Stark may get a chance to talk to him, before he disappears again," Director Nick Fury piped up from his seat at the conference table. He was dressed in an all-black suit and tie to project power and strength. They were all staring at the latest satellite feeds from Bella Coola, as well as all the files on Banner and his research on various screens around the room.

Ross turned his glare on Violet, who decided not to let him intimidate her. She was wearing her all-black, bodyguard dress shirt and pants uniform with her hair up in a tight bun. The General was having problems accepting a small female was now part of the new Avenger Team. She had no military training and was a thief by profession. He didn't trust her as far as he could throw her, which probably could be pretty far; she was so petite. He also didn't understand how her bracelet could be any sort of weapon. Ross had read the reports SHILED had on some of her exploits, especially her latest one where she blew a terrorist plane out of the sky. He just couldn't understand how it was possible.

"Banner is a good man, General. You know that," Tony chimed back in. "He's a biological genius. We need him. We need the Hulk as well."

Suddenly, the Witchblade decided to come to life and join the conversation through Violet. It glowed, swirled, and whispered all throughout the conference room. For dramatic effect it even activated into the glove and gauntlet form. Violet's mind slipped into sync with it. Violet spoke with the ethereal voice of hers combined with the Witchblade's essence. "Dr. Banner is trying master his control over the primal and powerful forces within him. If you let him succeed, he will be of great benefit to mankind. If you interfere and ruin the progress he is making, he will become a menace. It is possible for him to find the path to control his transformations. He needs your friendship and support, not your added aggression and violence. Be wise in how you seek him out."

Tony, who was starting to get used to the Witchblade's antics, tried not to let the smile show that was tugging at the corner of his lips. General Ross was staring at Violet, eyes wide and very surprised. Tony thought he could see some amazement mingling in the man's face too. He was glad the Witchblade was helping put Ross in his place.

"You are a patriot and warrior, Thaddeus," the Witchblade continued. "Devoted to your country, but sometimes you let your eagerness to defend it outstrip your conscience. Banner and the Hulk humiliated you in that regard, didn't they? The young doctor was just as willing as you to sacrifice everything he had to protect those he loved, but he knew there was a right and a wrong way to do it. He saw the harm and danger your experiments could cause; where you saw only a way to be better and stronger than your enemy. Allow yourself the cost of a conscience, Thaddeus Ross. You won't be sorry if you do."

The Witchblade flashed with brilliant red light, and then it deactivated. Violet came back to herself shortly thereafter. "That is the most I've heard out of that thing since I've been involved with it," Director Fury couldn't help but say.

"It knows how to pick its moments," Tony remarked with amusement.

Ross was now looking down at the floor, not meeting anyone's gaze. "It's right," he then said quietly. He didn't know how it knew what it knew, but it had struck a cord deep within him.

Tony shook his head, realizing the Witchblade had done it again. It sure knew how get people to see and admit the truth. "About what, General?" Tony asked kindly.

"That beast, that Hulk, had more of a conscience than I sometimes do," Ross replied, stilling looking downward. "I get so caught up in the process of defending this nation, I lose sight of that. The means become more important than the end." He finally looked up and cleared his throat. "We'll try it your way, Stark. I've always heard that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar anyway. The Hulk is a personification of what kind of person Banner really is, just as the Abomination was a personification of what kind of man Blonsky was. If Banner can control all that power, the benefits would be immeasurable, on and off the battlefield."

"I think you just got your go ahead, Stark," Fury announced. "As soon as we put a definite plan together, you and Violet are heading to British Columbia."

"I hear Canada is exceptionally beautiful this time of year," was Tony's glib response.

After a few more minutes of working out details and some discussion of the kind of deal Tony would be able to offer Banner if he turned himself in, the meeting came to a close. Ross gently took Violet aside for a moment, feeling the need to speak with her. "May I talk to you, Miss Devonshire?"

"Of course, General. What can I do for you?" Violet said, surprised. She thought he'd want to steer clear of her and the Witchblade.

"How did you know what I was warring with in my mind?" he inquired of her.

Violet was a little taken aback by his question, but relieved that he hadn't said it angrily. He seemed to genuinely want to know. "This thing on my wrist really is much more than a bracelet or a weapon, General. It can see into a person's heart. It must have felt that you truly are a good man to say anything at all. It usually isn't so vocal, but it must have felt that you needed to hear what it had to say. I'm finding that its counsel is worth listening to because it knows what it's talking about."

"I think I can see now why Stark likes you so much," the General told her, letting himself smile slightly. "I hope it's right about me."

"It is usually a good judge of character," Violet assured him. "Just believe in yourself."

"I'll try, Miss Devonshire; I'll try," Ross said as he turned to leave the room. "And thank you."

"You're welcome, General," she said sincerely. Was this experience for his benefit or mine? Violet wondered to herself. I just said to him many of the things the Witchblade and Tony have been trying to say to me. Maybe I should trust and listen to them.

That's all I ask, my dear sister, the Witchblade said gently in Violet's mind. I only want to help you, even if it may not seem like it at the time.

Tony came up to her then, from behind, and slipped his arms around her waist. "That went better than expected," he commented, nuzzling her neck. "You come in really handy, Miss Devonshire."

"It's nice to know I'm good for something," she replied, leaning back into him.

"Oh, I'd say you're good for a lot of different things," he said suggestively. "Let's get out of here and explore our options, after we take the Audi R8 out for a spin."

Violet laughed at Tony's innuendo. The man was incorrigible, but it was wonderful to feel so wanted and desired by a man that she could trust. "Sounds like fun to me," she teased him back, and together they exited the conference room.

"You know this assignment, mission, or whatever the hell you want to call it, could take a while," Tony said as they walked down the corridor leading to the reserved parking lot.

"And?" Violet prompted when Tony didn't elaborate.

"I don't think convincing Banner to be part of the Avenger Initiative is going to that easy," Tony told her. When Violet still looked confused at him, he sighed. "What I mean is this may not be a two to three day trip, or even a week one. It could take weeks, a month, or more. I just want to make sure you're okay with that, sweetheart."

Finally, Violet read between the lines. "You're afraid I might feel like running away again or something like that?"

"The thought had crossed my mind," he admitted weakly.

"With Irons no longing nipping at my heels, and you by my side, I think I'm ready to put down some roots. I love you, Tony Stark. I want to be with you. I want to be part of this Avengers thing. Who else better to convince Banner of what a good thing it is than someone coming from my perspective," Violet meant every word she said. She just hoped Tony felt the same way and wouldn't get bored with her.

As if he had read her mind, he replied, "I love you too, Vi. I want something more long term and committed for the first time in my life. I'm probably going to mess it up—big time—but I really want to make this work with you."

"I'm game if you are," Violet said with a bright smile as they located the Audi.

"I definitely am," he returned with a big grin of his own.

As the young, Asian woman stepped into the room, she could feel the essence of death in it, or at least that someone in the room was close to dying. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom of the bedroom. She could hear the sounds of a respirator and heart monitor echoing throughout the confined space. Nottingham's breath was right on her neck; he was her shadow for as long as her visit lasted. She hoped it wouldn't be very long. Her employer and mentor had a deal that she didn't think could be refused.

Dr. Helmet Krauss was standing nervously at the back of the room, observing, but not interacting. He had done everything he knew how to do for Kenneth Irons. He'd tried an extra potent dose of stem cells from Sara Pezzini's frozen corpse, but nothing was helping his patient. It seemed his miracle drug no longer worked. Krauss didn't like an outsider coming in with a solution he, himself, did not have.

"Will he be able to understand me?" she asked of Nottingham.

"There is nothing wrong with his mind," the protective bodyguard snapped. "It is only his body that is failing him."

She walked forward toward the luxurious looking bed that was now doubling as a hospital bed. The figure lying in the bed was shrunken, almost a husk it was so wrinkled. IV's were hooked up to it, oxygen, the respirator, the heart monitor, and several other machines the young woman didn't know what they were. Kenneth Irons was really dying it seemed. She was surprised that he was still alive from the way he looked.

"Mr. Irons," she started out right away, wanting to get the whole exchange over with as soon as possible. "I am Mei-Ling, and I represent a certain Chinese business client that may be able to help you out of your current situation."

The figure slowly stirred at her voice, gasping for air. Then a raspy, wisp of a voice answered her. "If your client can save me from death, I'm listening," it whizzed.

"My client wants to offer you youth and continued long life, if you will give him a foothold in the American market," she explained, trying not to flinch at the thing before her.

"A foothold in the American market?" the sickly voice parroted. "Through owning part of my company, I take it?"

Nottingham was right; there was nothing wrong with the mind of the old and crippled being in front of her; he knew exactly what was going on. "Yes. My client wants a controlling interest in Vorschlag, fifty-one percent ownership to be precise. Business is picking up in China, but the communist government still limits my client's ability to grow and expand, especially in the American market."

"And if I refuse this one-sided offer?" Irons' weak voice asked.

"I hardly think it's a one-sided offer," Mei-Ling countered, shifting slightly in her uncomfortableness. "My client will save you from death and help you get your revenge against Anthony Stark. I think a little over half of your economic empire would be worth that to you."

"How do I know that your client can do what he is claiming he can do?" Irons demanded with a little more volume, trying to look at Mei-Ling.

"Just for the record, I'm stating that I think this is a very bad idea, Mr. Irons," Dr. Krauss suddenly interjected.

Irons' eyes flashed to Krauss at the back of the room, but he made no other movement; too weak to do so. "You lost your say the moment you gave up on me," he spat. Krauss drew back further and became silent once more.

Mei-Ling had been expecting this skepticism and had come prepared. "My client offers you a sample of what his biotechnology can do," she informed him. She then looked to Nottingham standing at her side, like the stone sentinel he was. "May I see his hand?"

Nottingham gently reached down and drew out a thin, pasty, shriveled arm. It was more like the arm of a skeleton than a man. "If you add to his demise, you will not leave this room alive," he threatened Mei-Ling.

She took out a small syringe. "This has a small sample of nanite technology that my client has been developing. They are microscopic machines that will seek out and repair damaged cells. They are programmed to be dormant when not needed, and then be reactivated when injury or illness is detected. May I proceed?"

Nottingham looked to his master, his worry evident in his eyes. "Let her do it, Ian," came the whispered command. Nottingham stepped back and allowed Mei-Ling to inject the substance into Irons' right hand.

Irons hissed as the smaller-than-bodily-cells robots entered his body and began their work. A few moments later, all the wrinkles became smooth again, the dark age spots faded, and the arthritic disfigured joints straighten out. His hand looked young and healthy again, and he could move his fingers with marveling dexterity. All pain and aliment was gone from them as well.

Dr. Krauss couldn't stay were he was; he had to see what had happened for himself. He rushed forward and beheld Irons' hand with the nanites in it compared to the rest of his wilted form. "Mein Gott!" he whispered in total shock, reverting to his native German tongue.

"Is that proof enough?" Mei-Ling inquired with a smug smile.

"Are there any negative side effects?" Nottingham wanted to know. Dr. Krauss turned eagerly toward Mei-Ling as well; he feared the worst.

"Not as far as my client has tested," Mei-Ling replied. "And he has done extensive testing to work out any potential problems. The nanites work and work to perfection. Of course my client's work is not sanctioned by any country or medical practice, and his work is extremely confidential."

"If your client's nanite technology cannot only keep me alive, but restore my youth and vitality on the scale of my whole body, then you can tell him we have a deal. He is welcome to become a new silent partner in Vorschlag Industries," Irons gasped out.

"A controlling, silent partner?" Mei-Ling wanted to clarify.

"Sir you cannot," Krauss tried to project some rational thinking into the discussion.

Irons seemed to grit his skull-like teeth. "Shut up, Helmet," he growled. "Yes," he finally grounded out in answer to Mei-Ling.

"My client will be most please by your acceptance, Mr. Irons," Mei-Ling said with relief. "I will have the paper work drawn up and ready to be officiated immediately, and then you'll get enough nanite material to restore your whole frame to perfect health."

"Who is your client?" Nottingham demanded. "I want to know who Mr. Irons will be beholden to."

"You can simply know him as 'The Mandarin'," Mei-Ling answered vaguely. "When he feels the time is right, he will be in more direct contact with Mr. Irons. I think this new alliance will be mutually beneficial to both parties involved. Both men want to bring down Anthony Stark and take possession of his most profitable weapons manufacturing company."

"What does your client have against Stark?" Irons managed to wheeze out.

"He wants his Iron Man suit technology to rule the continent of Asia, and eventually the entire globe," Mei-Ling said matter-of-factly. "But Stark must be removed from power before that can happen. My client feels that Mr. Irons would be a most promising partner in that regard."

"Oh, yes," Irons said with a stronger and more forceful voice. "I definitely will enjoy burning Tony Stark to the ground."

"Not all at once, however, Mr. Irons," Mei-Ling commented. "The Mandarin wants him to have a fall from grace—a very public fall from grace. The Mandarin has a plan to tear him apart a little at a time until there is nothing left of him. It will be subtle enough that Stark will never see it coming until it is too late."

"That could take a very long time, and I am not a patient man," Irons complained.

"Revenge is something that should be savored, not devoured too quickly," Mei-Ling said sagely. "In working with my client, you will have it, and be able to enjoy it more fully. That I promise you."

"We shall see," was all Irons said in reply.


Well, that's all folks. Don't forget to let me know what the final verdict is about this story. Even if you haven't reviewed before, please do so now. And remember to speak up if you'd like to see me write another story to go along with this one. I purposely left the ending open so I could write an additional one, if there is some interest in me doing so. You don't have to spend a lot of time, just a little opinion note would do me a world of good. Please give a bit of yourself for this last hurrah. Thanks. :)