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Del Rion [userpic]

Chitauri Apocalypse; Chapter 29: Iron Man Returns

[show info]Title: Chitauri Apocalypse
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Loki, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Lady Sif and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor
(Brief/smaller appearances: Odin, Maria Hill, Darcy Lewis, The Other, Benjamin “Benny” Pollack, Erik Selvig, Jasper Sitwell, Claire Wise.)
Pairings: Happy/Pepper, Jane/Thor. Mentions of: Benny/Claire, Pepper/Tony
Summary: Iron Man never fell back through the portal. The Avengers must deal with the loss of their comrade and move on – until Earth once again comes under an attack from the Chitauri and their new-found weapons that decimate everything in their path with unmatched power and intellect. As cities and nations collapse around their decreasing resistance, the heroes of Earth must find a way to defeat their enemy before there is nothing left to avenge.
Work in progress.
Written for: Apocalypse Big Bang, Round One (apocalypsebang at LiveJournal)
Art: Imaan (insteadofdeath at dA/DW/LJ)
Warnings: Graphic description of torture, major character death, apocalypse & invasion themes (including but not limited to: mass destruction, terrorism, holocaust, death, violence and gore), brain-washing & mind-control, language (including some remarks that could be seen as racist). Serious spoilers for the ending of The Avengers (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic universe).




~ ~ ~




Chapter 29: Iron Man Returns



Whatever Tony had done to the Chitauri ships, it worked. Many of them simply fell from the sky while others struggled to regain control. It bought them time to safely return back to the U.S. – along with the space ship Tony had lifted from the sands of the Afghan desert.

The Avengers and their closest friends and allies had opted to travel with Tony. They were joined by a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were perhaps meant to control the situation should Tony change his mind about helping them, but what were they going to do if even one of the mecha on the space ship was activated? Maybe that was why the agents sat together to one side, as invisible as they could be.

Tony had personally asked Rhodey to join him for the duration of the trip – and he had also had them haul War Machine’s armor over. Rhodey hadn’t dared to get his hopes up at that point but once they were in the air and it seemed either the ship or J.A.R.V.I.S. was taking care of the flying, Tony set up a shop in the middle of the ship and started taking War Machine apart.

Rhodey circled close by as he worked, the others watching from the side, conversing in quiet voices.

Piece by piece the armor was undone, inspected and put aside. Rhodey feared it would be just a pile of components once Tony was done with it, making it impossible for anyone to re-create the armor, but eventually Tony started putting pieces back together, the project taking a familiar shape once more.

“Here we go,” Tony nodded to himself after a moment, holding War Machine’s helmet in his hands. “J.A.R.V.I.S., did you upload the new combat database upgrades?”

“Indeed I did, sir,” the AI responded. It was the first thing they had said anything outloud to each other in what seemed like a day, which was weird, but Rhodey had by now accepted that somehow Tony had wired J.A.R.V.I.S. into his brain, just like he was connected to the mecha; they must have been talking all this time, just not out loud.

“There it is,” Tony murmured softly, narrowing his eyes slightly as if looking at something only he could see. That went on for a while before his eyes were directed at Rhodey. “Alright, I need you to suit up for a test run.”

“It’s working?” Rhodey asked with some apprehension.

“You think I would ask you to put it on if it wasn’t?” Tony shot back as if there was only one answer to that.

Rhodey smiled and walked over.

To feel War Machine tight around his body once more was the closest thing to home he had left. Tony moved around him, tightening bolts, helping the process they didn’t have machinery for. They had never done this before; Rhodey had taken his suit without Tony’s actual consent, years ago, and Tony had barely touched it since. It was strange how the armor had never gotten a chance to bring them together, other than in battle.

“How’s it feel?” Tony asked after Rhodey had taken a few tentative steps, moving his arms and finding that the armor hadn’t functioned so well in a long time, perhaps ever.

“It’s good,” he admitted.

Tony huffed as if he knew what Rhodey was really thinking, moving low and making a few more adjustments. “Battle-ready,” he mused then, stepping back and looking at him.

“Thanks,” Rhodey responded. It was easy to stay in this moment and revel in how uncomplicated it was. Tony wasn’t trying to kill them or crush him inside the suit. He was back on their side, the right side, and whatever had brought that change around, eventually… Rhodey wasn’t certain he cared. As long as Tony’s alliance stayed with them, instead of going another 180 degrees…

“Looks good,” Steve Rogers commented, walking closer.

Rhodey nodded.

“Go for a test flight,” Tony suggested. “You should have enough room to maneuver inside the ship.”

That was Rhodey’s cue to leave and he took it, walking a safe distance from the others before starting the repulsors and taking off. He weaved across giant hallways, feeling an unstoppable dread rise in his throat as he entered the huge, circular space in the heart of the ship where the mecha rested in their nests. They paid him no mind as he flew by – another testament to Tony’s willingness to help them.

Rhodey wasn’t stupid: he had seen the mecha out there in Afghanistan and how easily they took down Chitauri ships. However, Tony hadn’t given the Chitauri a chance to return fire, which meant he was either avoiding confrontation of that kind or wasn’t in a mood to toy with his prey. Whatever the reason, the Chitauri knew where he stood now and if Rhodey had understood correctly, the mecha were currently engaging the Chitauri around the globe. However, the most decisive battle would take place wherever Tony decided to stop and make his stand, and that’s where Rhodey would be, too.

- - -

“It was nice of you to fix Rhodey’s suit,” Steve said after War Machine left for a test flight.

Tony hummed some kind of response, putting away his tools and extra pieces of metal and wiring. “Technically, it’s my suit, so… And I was the one who broke it. Not that there was much to break; what were your engineers doing to my creation?” he asked, sounding offended.

Steve tried to find a comeback that wouldn’t insult him but Tony broke into a small grin before he could form a reply.

“Come now, Cap. I know what…” He didn’t finish but there were only so many things he could have said. It had been his fault they had been struggling to arm their soldiers. That was the easy, over-simplified version of the truth but Steve had thought it over so many times he skipped it this time around.

“Do you have a plan?” Steve asked instead, knowing they were moving according to Tony’s terms right now. They couldn’t afford to lose him – physically or emotionally. They had all seen what happened at that point.

Tony looked at him, a conflicted look on his face. Part of him appeared almost angry, amused – and the rest seemed thoughtful. No doubt a ‘man with a plan’ comment was on his lips but Tony, surprisingly, didn’t run with it. “Sort of.”

“Care to elaborate?” Steve prodded.

Tony focused on his tools for a bit longer, then stood up and motioned for Steve to follow. They entered a room off to one side, not smaller since nothing on this ship seemed inaccessible to the mecha, but definitely cramped compared to the others. “J.A.R.V.I.S., bring it up,” Tony ordered into thin air and the floor opened, a portion of it rising as pieces shifted around.

“The suit is complete, sir,” the AI’s voice echoed around them.

Steve watched as the mechanical pieces revealed something that made his throat go dry with sudden emotion. The colors were wrong – the red replaced by black – the gold appearing brighter in comparison. The arc reactor and eyes glowed at them as Iron Man stood tall on the dais. Steve hadn’t thought it would actually hit him that hard, if this day ever came, and he was glad for all the small changes because it didn’t take him right back to the battle in New York City.

Tony seemed equally speechless, which was strange. Steve looked at him, watching the other man watch the suit of armor, and the conflicted emotions were certainly back on Tony’s face.

“Put it on,” Steve suddenly said, as if there was some doubt that Tony might not do it.

The brown eyes were wide and shining with extra wetness as they met his gaze; open and vulnerable in a way Steve had seen him only a few times – all of those involving extreme pain or being under another’s control. This time, however, it was pure emotion. The look didn’t last, of course. Tony pulled the mask back on, untraceable if you hadn’t seen him just seconds ago, uncertainty replaced by determination. “I will,” he promised.

Steve knew that if his own reaction had been this, it was nothing compared to what the others would feel. To see Iron Man fly once more, battling the Earth’s enemies… It was the final push they needed. Even those who knew what Tony had been up to would feel that same rush of emotion Steve had experienced, he was certain of it.

Tony was looking at the suit again, head slightly cocked in thought. The armor appeared to be looking back, making the moment just as intimate as it probably was. Steve had a feeling Tony hadn’t put it on yet. Not after all he had done, all that he had become. But Earth needed its heroes to defend her and once you stepped down that path, you inevitably followed it to the very end, regardless of misdeeds and bad choices.

“I’ll be honored to stand beside you again,” Steve said, meaning every word.

“Likewise, Captain,” Tony replied, and there was zero mockery in his tone; no nicknames, no jokes.

Tony meant it.

- - -

Clint could admit the mecha provided an amazing vantage point. Perched on one’s shoulder, Clint had already learned its movements and could look for a target without fear of falling off. Certainly this wasn’t one of the large ones – Concordia and Edwin were too powerful and valuable to restrain their full potential – but Clint felt like he was able to touch the clouds as they moved between partially destroyed buildings of the city of Los Angeles.

Stark had taken them back towards the West Coast, seeing as there were no civilians there and the Chitauri forces would follow him like a magnet, pulled to whatever location Stark chose for the final blow-out.

That Clint had been offered to hitch a ride on an enormous robot had come as a surprise. He had been this close to a mecha only a handful of times, all of them life-or-death situations. He tried to ignore the natural rise in his pulse and bravely accepted the higher ground, unwilling to display cowardice in front of the mecha or its creator.

Now that he was getting used to its movements, didn’t need to watch for the deadly current or plan how to put out the mechanical eyes, he rather liked it.

Chitauri forces were slowly trickling in. Ships could be easily spotted in the sky but they hung back at a smart distance from the mecha; Edwin had already shot one down and grazed another. The damaged ship had soon vanished from the skyline, possibly to try landing before it crashed.

Clint had never seen so many mecha in one place. He had no idea what kind of homing beacon they had but it definitely worked. A few of them clung onto high-rise buildings like King Kongs, eyes searching the scenery, possibly reporting back their findings. To not be here to fight them was a relief and sent another kind of tremor through Clint; had the beginning been like this, they would have won the war in a week, he was sure of that.

The mecha shifted, turning a corner, and Clint’s eyes found a brief reflection of light on the ground; Cap was there, in full armor, shield catching the sun. The mecha bowed down suddenly, one arm stretched out; Clint found his balance quickly and watched as one hand, palm up, almost touched the ground and Captain America hopped up, running along the arm as the mecha straightened again and continued on.

Cap reached the other shoulder and nodded at Clint. If he wanted a report, he could have just used the comm, but he was probably seeking a small breather from the preparations on the ground; there were so few of them left it was ridiculous but the Avengers had defeated the Chitauri once, and they would do so again.

“Is he armored up yet?” Clint asked, raising his voice for it to carry over the small distance and the sound of massive feet hitting the street. He had seen Stark’s new suit briefly before they left the ship; he couldn’t wait to see the looks on people’s faces when he finally decided to fly in and join the action, no doubt showboating the entire way.

“Not yet,” Cap replied, sounding thoughtful.

“Well, he’s gonna miss the show if he dallies a bit longer,” Clint pointed out, gazing at the changing scenery. Leveled buildings, crushed cars, small craters from explosions… Not a soul had been here for a long time.

They passed another block and suddenly a swarm of small Chitauri aircrafts flew past them, making the mecha whip around and snarl at them. Clint was already fitting an arrow to his bow and released it once he was in position, blowing up one of the vehicles and sending it careening down to the ground, driver, passengers and all.

“It’s starting,” Cap said into the comm to notify those who couldn’t see the fireworks of the small explosion.

War Machine flew in through a hole in a nearby building, turning sharply and going after the flying Chitauri. A few blocks down, Concordia smashed its way through another building, glass and concrete raining down long after the mecha was already gone, chasing an enemy Clint couldn’t see from this distance.

The calm before the storm had passed: Chitauri forces pushed in on them from all sides. The Hulk roared in the distance, lightning struck down and Clint caught a brief glimpse of the Asgardians grouped together, doing their damnedest to prove each and every legend with their name attached to them true. Clint wished he could have stayed to watch a little longer, to take satisfaction in the fact that the Chitauri didn’t stand a chance against them, but his ride was moving along, craning its neck to check another street before making a turn in the opposite direction.

Cap decided that was as far as he was going to go and slid down one mechanical arm, swinging himself into a partially collapsed building from which he could make his way to the ground. Clint didn’t worry whether he made it or not, knowing that something as insignificant as a collapsed building wouldn’t stop their leader now that they were finally getting a taste of victory.

Larger aircraft began nearing the battle, bringing more firepower and soldiers to the aid of the Chitauri. Clint was looking at the one closest to him, wondering if he would be able to find a weakness to exploit, when the mecha suddenly stopped as if to reconsider the situation. A sound cut through the air behind Clint and he whipped his head around just in time to see a black-and-gold shape fly past them, rattling broken windows.

A belated cheer broke out somewhere on the ground and the Chitauri ships began to make a beeline towards Iron Man.

Clint smiled and tapped the mecha with his foot. “Let’s go and join the action. I have arrows that are looking for a new home.”

The mecha let out a sharp, metallic growl and started running. Clint crouched low, grinning, clouds of dust rising from where he had last seen Iron Man heading. It was clear Stark was already at work. “About time,” he muttered, sliding one arrow free to ease the anxiety in his stomach.

- - -

Tony hadn’t thought putting on the suit would be so hard.

The new design had been created bearing in mind the changes to his physiology; it was slightly thicker to accommodate the harness but not giving anyone a hint it was actually there. To the untrained eye, it was simply bulkier. Tony, however, saw every minor change and knew why they were there.

“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. prompted him, in his head and outside it at the same time, in perfect synch, the AI knowing it was the best way to gain his attention. It was something else to get used to. “Chitauri ships have come to a halt, a safe distance from the battle. They will deploy soldiers soon.”

Tony nodded. It was time. Not that he would make a difference by being there; he knew how capable the units would be to dispatch his tormentors, grinding them to dust beneath their feet. However, his team was out there…

The Avengers.

Rhodey.

Part of his mind still clung to half-lies and insecurities about how he wasn’t an Avenger – that he had been the last resort for Fury, another piece in the puzzle; another puppet. He had played his part beautifully, and now he was coming back for seconds at a table that wasn’t set for him.

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. The others were waiting.

Steve had given him a final look and a firm nod, like he believed in Tony and as if the arguments of their first meeting didn’t exist; Bruce had pulled him aside briefly and of all things imaginable that he might say or do, he had hugged Tony tight, his arms never re-adjusting when he had to rest them across the harness; Rhodey had asked him to check the War Machine one more time, which was his way of being close to Tony when it counted; Natasha hadn’t said much, but she definitely smiled when Thor had clasped Tony’s shoulder hard enough to bruise; Clint had looked at him like Tony was mad when he offered him a ride on one of the units, yet the excitement on his face was clear when he saw the heights it took him to.

They were all out there, knowing he had a suit and that he would put it on.

Tony opened his eyes and nodded. The armor began to disassemble in front of him, long enough that he had time to step over to the carefully calculated spot from where it could build itself up again, around him. It reminded him of the last time he had been inside the armor – had been Iron Man. The hours of horror, blood in his throat, lungs still burning while his skin blazed with agony. The Chitauri had stripped him of his armor but they sure as hell wouldn’t stop him from putting it back on.

That choice was Tony’s, and Tony’s alone.

In the back of his mind he still recalled the cries and screams of the small unit he had designed and worn like a suit, mimicking Iron Man yet unprepared to take the last step; the small unit had been alien enough to lull him into thinking that he was no longer the same person he used to be…

The Chitauri, once certain of his betrayal, had caught the small unit and torn it apart. It had still been damaged from the battle – the same one that put Tony in the stasis tank – and thus unable to save itself. Tony would avenge it and show the aliens that even if they destroyed one, they had barely scratched the surface of how many they would have to kill to take care of the rest.

Darkness briefly swallowed Tony as the helmet settled in place. Light came on a fraction of a second later, HUD lighting up, more complex than it had ever been yet his brain registered every bit of it.

The first step in the new suit was much like the first he had ever taken while wearing the armor. Another world opened up to him as his mind expanded, yet this time it did so literally, linking with the suit, with his AI, the units and the raging battle outside. It took him a moment to adjust and not be overwhelmed by all the data coming in. Tony had grown accustomed to this when the units, his babies, were in his head, and this wasn’t so different.

J.A.R.V.I.S. was silent and all actual audio died around him, enclosing him in silence that reminded him of the cold calm of space. He wasn’t drifting powerlessly this time, however; he felt the suit come to life at the command of his mind, a mere thought starting ignition. The doors opened and he soared up into the sky, not thinking twice as he left the protective ship behind and flew into the midst of buildings.

Chitauri forces were being deployed in numbers that had been able to stop human armies. However, all bets were off this time and the Avengers weren’t holding back. Tony’s mind’s eye tracked the Hulk’s destructive path, Thor and his Asgardians taking down one Chitauri after another, tirelessly and with vengeance. Black Widow was more silent, moving in the shadows with a few capable agents, setting traps and attacking without remorse.

The units were engaging all around him, some of them waiting for an opening, to see if the big ships would dare to come closer after Edwin’s last attack, the others tearing into smaller aircrafts, smashing them against buildings and leaping after them as the Chitauri tried to speed out of range.

Tony caught sight of War Machine on his screen and took a few turns to find him and join his efforts to clear the air. Repulsor blasts thinned the crowd nicely, at least for the time being, and Rhodey stopped to hover in the air, looking at Tony. “Looking good, man,” he noted.

Tony chuckled and got ready to throw back a comeback when the alarms flared and he ducked just in time to avoid a missile. It blasted the building behind him, sending it crashing down, but Tony paid it no mind: his eyes were trained on a Chitauri ship that was boldly lowering itself from the clouds, hovering over the city.

“You’re gonna go for it, aren’t you?” Rhodey asked needlessly.

“Yup,” Tony confirmed. Somewhere on that ship, he knew it for certain, lurked someone he wanted to get his hands on.

“Do you need help with that?” Rhodey went on, offering help.

“I’ll be fine. I’ve done this before, after all,” he mused dryly.

“Yeah, with a nuke,” Rhodey shot right back at him. “Let me come with you.”

Tony sighed. “Fine, but if you get squashed like a bug when that thing falls, it’s your own damn fault.”

“I can live with that.”

Tony felt like pointing out that might not happen but shot up instead, arms raised, weapons hot, shooting back at the ship. War Machine flew after him, raining destruction on the ship and Tony focused at the same spot, knowing that after piercing the hull they would be one step closer to their goal. As they got closer, however, Tony saw they weren’t doing enough damage and dodged to the side to avoid smashing into the ship, War Machine following close by, still shooting.

Lightning cracked and suddenly something shot through the air, smashing into the side of the space ship, making the metal bend briefly before it cracked and broke under the pressure and Tony veered back to check it out.

Mjolnir came crashing back though the hole as Tony moved past it, almost taking him out. He swung around in mid-air to look at Thor approaching, cape billowing in the wind, hair wild. “Friend Tony,” he nodded his head and stopped. “Shall we pay them a visit?”

Tony guessed that since Thor had opened a door for them, he couldn’t tell him no. Signaling the units to compensate for Thor’s absence on the ground, he nodded and made for the hole, firing at it, making it larger to let them through.

Thor and War Machine were right behind him as they entered the ship. It was dark and quiet compared to the outside – too dark and quiet. Tony floated in the air while the other two settled down on the floor, scanning the area. A hissing sound filled the space as air pushed in to replace whatever was leaking out – Tony never had figured out what it was the Chitauri breathed, the memory of discovering it wasn’t oxygen still making his throat ache.

“It’s quiet in here,” Rhodey was the first to speak.

“A trap, perhaps?” Thor mused, already shifting his hammer, clearly not bothered by the idea of walking into one.

Tony moved his feet, just slightly, floating to the side along the dark space. He heard the other two follow, Thor’s boots and War Machine’s heavy footsteps echoing off the walls around them.

“I don’t like this,” Rhodey complained.

“You know where the door is,” Tony replied. He knew their approach and entrance could have not gone unnoticed. It was only a matter of time –

Tony’s ears barely registered the sound before it felt like his skull was exploding and he fell to the floor, landing painfully on his knees even in the suit, attempting to cover his ears through the helmet. He tasted blood and the piercing sound kept on going and going, steadily making him want to vomit and scream, of which he did the latter.

Some part of his mind registered the sounds of battle that started around him; doors and hatches opening, Chitauri swarming in; Rhodey engaging them; Thor’s battle cry; the sound of Mjolnir striking armored bodies… It was all like a faint whisper, an annoying tinnitus barely pushing through the agonizing, continuous wail.

Tony struggled to remove the helmet, his covered fingers clumsy even without the shaking that had taken over. Finally the clasps opened and he tasted the different air, the sound slowly fading and leaving only a throbbing the size of his head.

He groaned – then inhaled sharply as pain stabbed into his neck, thrusting in and foreshadowing the thoughts that assaulted his mind, drowning him, making his body tense and go slack at the same time. He wanted to fight and curl up, strike out and submit. It made no sense. He blinked, his eyesight distorted as if he were looking at two things at the same time.

“You thought you were so clever, Tony,” a familiar, hissing voice caressed his ears. The Engineer’s will pressed upon his own, to force him down, to make him stop fighting. “Resistance is futile: your mind belongs to me –”

There was a crunch, something warm dripping down on the back of Tony’s head and the mind of the Chitauri disappeared like smoke in the wind. A painful drag followed as the spike slid out of the harness and Tony lifted his face just in time to see The Engineer’s head being crushed in the gauntleted grip of the War Machine, which was the only thing keeping the body from slumping down.

“Tony!” Rhodey called out too loudly, making Tony’s ears ring. “Can you breathe? Put the helmet back on; I think the air here is poisonous.”

Tony closed his eyes and laughed. “It’s okay…” he managed after a moment, looking up again. Rhodey had let the dead Chitauri fall, looking at him with those glowing red eyes. Tony’s mind tapped into the inside cameras of the HUD and saw the concerned features of the man encased in the suit. “Thanks,” he finally murmured, lowering his head, stretching his neck, wishing the pain would disappear faster.

Thor’s familiar gait neared them and a hand settled on his shoulder. Tony felt the pressure although not as keenly as without the armor. “Are you injured? We saw you fall before the Chitauri stormed us.”

“Give me a moment,” Tony asked, not weakly but wanting to ground himself, to make sure his thoughts were still his own. Eventually he reached for the helmet again and put it back on, hearing it lock into place. Something wet and warm was making its way down the side of his neck – either his own blood or that of The Engineer. “Let’s go,” Tony announced as he raised himself up, Thor’s hand still on his shoulder. “We have a ship to sink.”

Rhodey chuckled and aimed at the nearest wall, blasting at it without remorse. After a shared look, Tony and Thor joined him with new gusto.

- - -

It was slow going but Steve was convinced they were going to win this.

Iron Man had flown by, drawing gazes just like back in the day, and that was all it took for the men and women to find a little bit of new spirit. Most of them would assume someone had just donned another one of Stark’s suits but if they believed there was a hero inside… that it took a hero to wear one…

He had joined the Warriors Three, Lady Sif and Loki in battle when Thor had taken to the skies and hadn’t returned. Steve wasn’t concerned about that. Not only was he confident that Thor could handle himself, but he’d also noted the Chitauri ship floating over the city which was now smoking in places.

Volstagg sent three more Chitauri flying with a mighty bellow while Sif dodged a shot, blocked another with her shield and then moved within striking distance with her sword. Her every movement was elegant and had Steve not been hard-pressed to mind his own business – and fight – he would have gladly watched her. Not that Hogun or Fandral were left in the shadows either, Hogun a silent advocate of death and Fandral showing much of the same flourish that Tony had about him.

Loki, on the other hand, didn’t appear to be enjoying himself. His magic was as potent as ever but he didn’t seem comfortable attacking the enemy head-on like the others did. Steve understood that not everyone fought the same way and that hiding and striking was Loki’s way. He was also still recovering from the injuries he had sustained during his captivity, which made Steve bite back any remarks and fight twice as hard to pick up the slack. Not that there was much he needed to do because even when injured and avoiding direct confrontation, Loki had certainly earned his place beside the other Asgardian warriors.

A mecha came crashing onto the scene from another street, striding over and past them, crushing several Chitauri beneath its foot but miraculously missing all of its allies. Or perhaps it was deliberate, Steve might have to ask Tony about that.

During the fight he had noted that whatever the mecha were made of, Chitauri weapons worked on them better than anything the humans had tried. Not well enough to stop the machines, however, and if the Chitauri didn’t go running for their lives they got crushed, sooner or later, the mecha tirelessly pursuing their new enemies. Steve had been in the Chitauri’s place not too long ago, yet he felt little pity for them: they had used Tony, torturing him and bending him to their will; they had come back here, waging war.

It was justice to see them fall beneath their own weapons, quite literally.

“Concordia is crushing the opposition at the south end of the city, moving north,” Fury’s voice informed anyone who was still listening to the comm signal.

Steve smiled briefly before dodging another blow and returning one of his own with the shield, then sent it flying to take out a Chitauri sneaking up on Hogun. The Asgardian thanked him with a firm nod and went on about his business while Steve retrieved his shield, checked the gun he was carrying and pushed at the lingering enemies once more.

They were going to win this.



Two weeks later

“Sir, the last ships are lifting off from the atmosphere,” Benjamin Pollack noted from the main screen. “That’s five altogether, heading away from us. It doesn’t look like they’re going to hang around.” The man grinned, relief showing on his tired face.

Nick Fury couldn’t but echo the expression while relief flooded him. The last two weeks had been filled with non-stop battles, more ferocious than any he had seen before. The remaining soldiers had eventually fallen back as the mecha continued on, followed by the Avengers and the Asgardians; it seemed that even when Stark had the situation well in hand, they refused to sit on the sidelines and cheer.

They were going to finish this, once and for all – as a team.

Five space ships had managed to elude the mecha. Only those five limped out of the arena of destruction while countless others lay in smoke and ruin, just like the Earth around them.

Fury was feeling positive, however; the surviving humans would re-build their world, their culture, their lives. They had faced the apocalypse and survived. The coming years, even decades, would be incredibly hard, but they would make it for the sake of all those they had lost.

Giving Pollack a brief pat on the back, he moved off the bridge and to the lower level where the weary warriors were getting some much-needed rest. However, it didn’t come as a surprise that Stark was standing at a window, looking out at the sky – or that Banner was sitting against the wall beside him, too tired to stand but unwilling to rest either. He looked peaceful, as much as a man like him could, his eyes meeting Fury’s before he looked at nothing in particular once more.

Footsteps neared and Fury halted to see what would unfold: Rogers approached, looking tired yet content, walking over to Stark and stopping beside him. They stood there, silent and still, until it seemed Stark leaned to the side, just slightly, and Rogers lifted one arm in a loose embrace. Silence stretched around them until Banner suddenly rose, a soft smile on his face, and Fury gazed at the dim reflection of the three of them in the window. Stark’s features were relaxed and peaceful, eyes closed; he had clearly fallen asleep against Rogers. The two Avengers shared a silent look before Rogers carefully shifted his hold and lifted Stark into his arms, no doubt very similar to the day they had saved him from the Chitauri.

“Sir,” Rogers nodded his head at Fury, inclining he knew the man was there, then continued on to one of the nearby cabins.

Banner stopped for a moment, looking after the two before facing Fury. “Did you need something?”

“Just to tell you that the remaining Chitauri ships have hightailed it off the planet,” Fury informed the scientist.

“We knew that, but thanks,” Banner nodded.

“How is he?” Fury asked next, thinking back to the small display of trust between Rogers and Stark he’d just witnessed.

“Tony?” Bruce guessed. “He’s… complicated.” A sigh escaped his lips, shoulders slumping a bit more if that were possible. “He knows he’s a war-criminal. Not that anyone else knows. Steve is adamant about keeping it that way: he absolutely refuses to let Tony say otherwise. Tony knows what he did, though, and nothing we say can change that. Especially when it comes time to put the world back together, it will glare at him face to face from dawn to dusk.”

“I suppose that’s all the punishment a man can take,” Fury mused.

Banner gave him a surprised look. “You’re letting him off the hook?”

Fury shrugged, looking out the window. “You win some, you lose some. I know we won because of him.” Just like they would have lost beneath Stark’s boot, eventually. He didn’t like to think about it, so he looked ahead instead. “Get some sleep, Doctor,” Fury said then and headed back to the bridge, to make sure the Chitauri didn’t get any bright ideas about coming back. He doubted it, but one could never be too careful.

He heard a door close somewhere behind him and wondered if Banner would join Rogers and Stark, to seek comfort in numbers –something they had all grown so accustomed to during the past few months. Some habits died harder than others.





to be continued…


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