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).
Hurried steps weren’t unnatural sounds on S.H.I.E.L.D. premises – nor long, determined strides. Actual running, however, never bode well, making heads rise and eyes follow the possible bearer of ill news.
Fury didn’t turn to see the arrival, hearing the boots stop a few feet from him in hesitation, then continue onwards.
“Director Fury,” as officer from the communications unit proceeded, “we just got a call from the Russians. Their satellites picked up an image of something they couldn’t identify.”
Fury turned, his mind already a step ahead; if the Russians had seen something, regardless of their ability to recognize it, for them to notify S.H.I.E.L.D. – least of all to ask for help – was very unusual. The officer held a folder out to him and he opened it, finding a picture that was no doubt of the finest quality, yet against the black background he could at first make out very little. Then he began to recognize a shape in the middle.
“When was this taken?” he asked, eye still on the picture.
“Two days ago. There’s another image…”
Fury looked up briefly at not being told that earlier, then flipped a page and there it was, much clearer than the first one. “And the other one?” he demanded.
“This morning, sir. It’s… getting closer, and there are others. Our satellites are getting into position to confirm their findings. NASA has been alerted and this has been moved up to highest priority.”
Fury studied the image a bit longer. Should he be a man of a lesser security clearance he might have guessed he was looking at some image from the latest science fiction movie. However, he knew this design although they had very little data to go on, seeing as there had been a battle raging at the time…
“Call the Avengers,” he called out, knowing Hill would get to it at once. “Get a hold of Dr. Banner if you can.” He closed the folder, looking up. His second in command was already passing on the word to assemble the Earth’s mightiest heroes, and Fury briefly wondered what their reaction to this would be.
The bridge was buzzing with life and noises, people running around with notes, files, and tablets in hand, transferring data and coordinating a response to the latest threat. Steve didn’t know what it was they had been called in for but it had sounded urgent.
“There hasn’t been this much activity since Loki’s last visit,” Clint said dryly, entering the room beside him. He looked unimpressed but that was just his way of dealing with the upcoming hardships that surely lay in wait.
Natasha was already seated at the table, staring off into the distance. Fury was standing at his post, back turned to them for now, but Steve was certain the Director knew they had arrived.
“I hear he tried calling Bruce in for this as well,” Clint went on, taking a seat beside Natasha. Steve took his usual place at the table, glancing at all the empty chairs. It did not do him any good to remember who had vacated which ones of them, but sometimes he couldn’t help it. Recalling Bruce standing behind his own chair, nervous yet more in control than any of them might ever be. Tony, ready to plan another way to break into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files… He wondered if they ever would have been friends, the way his father and Steve had been. He liked to think so, yet he would never know.
Tony had trusted him on the field, though, allowing him to call the shots… Had he trusted him to make the right call in the end, too? To stop him from flying into the portal with that nuke – or had that been the right thing to do?
He drew in a careful breath and turned his head to see two men entering. One of them he recognized and he smiled briefly, standing up to shake the older man’s hand: “Doctor Selvig, it has been a while.”
“I wish we were meeting under better circumstances,” the astrophysicist smiled grimly.
“Then you must know something we don’t,” Clint spoke up.
Erik Selvig gave them all a look then sat down; clearly he wasn’t going to divulge their reason for being here and Steve was getting a feeling maybe he didn’t want to know.
The younger man who had followed Selvig into the room looked around hesitantly, clearly not used to the idea of sitting at the same table with the Avengers – that happened a lot, Steve had noticed – then picked the seat next to Selvig, uncomfortably fiddling with his suit. Natasha and Clint both looked at him with apparent disinterest although Steve knew they both wondered who he was and why he was attending a meeting with them.
“We’re all here, it seems,” Fury spoke up and turned towards them, striding over. Dark, opaque walls rose around them, blocking the rest of the bridge and its noises from them. The young man jumped slightly and tried to appear nonchalant when no one else reacted. “Meet Benjamin Pollack,” Fury went on, introducing the dark-haired man. “He’s from our R&D and was the first person to get one of the abandoned Chitauri weapons to work.”
“Hi,” the guy smiled nervously at them. “Just call me Benny.”
“Mr. Pollack,” Steve nodded his head then moved his eyes up to Fury. “Are those weapons why we’ve been called here?” he asked. He knew a lot of debris had been left lying on the streets of New York City after the battle was over, not all of them originating from Earth, yet even S.H.I.E.L.D. fiddling with the weaponry of some alien race felt risky and unnecessary to him. However, it had not been his place to question it years ago, and clearly it wasn’t the case now, either.
“Not exactly,” Fury replied as multiple screens appeared on the surface of the table. They showed a series of images from space, Steve could tell that much instantly – and something hovering in the middle.
He leaned closer, narrowing his eyes, trying to make sure he saw what he thought he saw. “Space ships,” he finally volunteered his verdict.
“The first images were taken five days ago. By now we have established that they are moving towards us and are not going to move past the planet if they maintain their current course.”
“They’re coming to Earth?” Natasha frowned.
“Do we know who’s coming?” Clint added.
“I hoped you could clarify that,” Fury responded, looking at the Avengers and Dr. Selvig, leaning forward against the table. “We had very few reliable sources on the ground while the portal was open above Manhattan. You may have gotten a glimpse of whatever Stark managed to blow up before the portal closed.”
There was silence. Steve knew he couldn’t be the only one to think back to that moment, those long seconds – minutes – that they waited before they had to close the portal or risk being back to square one. “I don’t think any of us got a good look at what lay on the other side of the portal,” he finally said. “We were somewhat preoccupied at the time.” He couldn’t completely erase the edge from his voice.
“What are the odds that this is some revenge cooked up by the Chitauri?” Clint continued after him. “Weren’t they from the other edge of the galaxy or something?”
“They were able to open a portal between two points in space,” Selvig observed. “I think it’s too premature to rule out their means of travel as insufficient to reach us, given the right amount of time.”
“The designs seem similar,” Benjamin Pollack spoke up suddenly, clearing his throat self-consciously as everyone’s eyes turned towards him. “Of what we can see in the images, and what we have studied… It could be of the same origin.”
“How likely is it that they are not of the same origin?” Clint challenged. “We haven’t exactly had a queue of alien ships awaiting visiting rights to Earth.”
“Whoever they are, we must be prepared,” Fury cut in then turned to look at Steve. “Do you think you would be able to talk Dr. Banner into returning? We might need him soon.”
“Bruce has no desire to be included in this anymore.” Steve tried not to sigh. “He did his part.”
“If the worst happens, it doesn’t matter where he’s hiding,” Fury responded hotly. “If those ships arrive and attack us, we’ll need him back on the team.”
Steve nodded; he could see that. “I’ll… try to talk to him again.”
“Do you know where he is?” Natasha asked. Of course she knew he and Bruce met at least once a year in Malibu; they all knew yet they never said anything or pushed to join them.
“Not right now, but I have a feeling you do,” Steve glanced at Fury knowingly.
The Director simply nodded.
Steve could see why Bruce was so leery of coming back, yet if the world was in danger, he knew the man wouldn’t keep hiding. He had played the part of a hero once; that wasn’t something you turned your back on when you were needed again.
“We’ll keep tracking the situation,” Fury concluded. “Until we are certain the threat has passed, we’re at Level Six.”
“Doesn’t get much higher than that,” Clint muttered as they rose to leave, the walls sliding back.
Natasha agreed nonverbally and the two of them left the bridge without further ado.
“Could I get a copy of those pictures?” Steve asked. It would be good to have something corporeal to show Bruce once he went after him. Fury nodded again and turned back to his screens. Steve guessed he would just wait until they located Bruce and sent him down to meet him. Maybe he should try to come up with some good lines in the meanwhile, seeing as there were a few possible outcomes to his visit and some of them weren’t all that pleasant.
Bruce hadn’t gotten far, apparently. He was in Nicaragua when a S.H.I.E.L.D. plane dropped Steve off there and left him to fend for himself with some supplies, money, and a radio to get them to pick him up again – or pick up what was left of him. Steve wasn’t really concerned about the latter; he and Bruce were friends, he knew he could trust the guy, but one could never be too sure with the Hulk lurking beneath the surface and Steve knew that if he approached this carelessly, it would get messy very fast.
It was a good thing he wasn’t the careless type.
The village was small and remote yet there were enough people that it took Steve a while to find Bruce, who apparently was very good at mingling. It wasn’t actually that he found the man but that his target took pity on him.
“You stick out like a sore thumb, Cap,” Bruce noted from behind him where Steve had been scanning yet another street to find a familiar face. He turned, finding a humorless smile on Bruce’s face. “Fury just doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Did he tell you why he tried to call you in?” Steve replied.
Bruce looked around then started walking. Steve followed him to a house and a small room upstairs that seemed to serve as Bruce’s current home. “No. I didn’t want to know, and he didn’t seem excited about saying it over the phone,” the scientist mused as he emptied his bag, placing items on a rickety table; some food with labels Steve couldn’t read, medical supplies probably not for Bruce himself and a few other random items.
Steve pulled a carefully folded stack of papers from his pocket, handing them over to Bruce. The man met his eyes before taking them, pulling his glasses down to his nose before unfolding the pictures, shuffling through them slowly as if pondering each picture from all the possible angles. “They’re coming here,” Steve told him once he was certain Bruce had seen each picture at least once. “We’re on the clock and if those things are hostiles –”
“So that’s the plan: pit us against whatever emerges from those ships?” Bruce raised an eyebrow and threw the pictures to the table next to his purchases.
“We don’t stand alone but we have to be ready,” Steve insisted.
Bruce turned slightly, his back half-turned to Steve, regarding his small room and the noises outside. Perhaps they were all familiar to him, wherever he went, but Steve felt like neither of them belonged here.
“If it’s the Chitauri…” he started, knowing he didn’t need to say more; Bruce’s shoulders tensed, fingers curling into fists.
“You don’t know that,” Bruce finally said, voice strained. Perhaps it was just the poor light or his eyes were a bit green when he looked at Steve again.
“They seem to be giving it the benefit of the doubt, but that’s the biggest fear,” Steve pressed.
Bruce looked away again, drawing a careful breath, unclenching his hands with a visible effort. He leaned forward, against the table, hands set on either side of the pictures. Steve knew what the other man was contemplating – that part of him hoped it was the Chitauri, by some miracle, and that they would all get revenge. It might not bring Tony back but it would allow them to avenge him.
“If it’s them, then… we’ll see, I guess,” Bruce finally replied, standing up, his expressions under control again. “Let’s get you some food. I’m sure you’re starving.”
Steve smiled, knowing it was better to roll with it than keep pestering Bruce about his decision. “I won’t say no to that,” he admitted and they returned to the street. Bruce weaved effortlessly past people, leading Steve along to a smaller street then to a house that looked no more special than the rest, a small sign hanging outside it.
There were a few tables set in a small room that looked more like someone’s own dining area. Bruce took a seat, motioned for Steve to do the same. Then, as a young woman came by Bruce chatted with her for a moment, probably in Spanish, then settled back. “I helped her aunt deliver a baby last week,” he told Steve then shrugged, “I get a discount.”
A pitcher of water was soon set between them with two glasses and a while later they were presented with food that Steve had never seen before but which was good – plus he was hungry so it didn’t matter what the food looked like, or if the taste and texture wasn’t something he was used to.
They ate heartily, Steve actually feeling full by the end, even with his metabolism, and he insisted on paying for the food when Bruce started to count some bills he pulled from his pocket. “I’m here on S.H.I.E.L.D. business so it’s only fair they pay for it.”
Bruce smiled, waiting as Steve counted an appropriate amount of bills on the table then led the way out again.
They passed what had to be a local bar, people sitting outside, playing board games and talking loudly. There was a TV fixed to the wall, the picture a bit shaky at times. As they walked by it the crowd suddenly felt silent and someone increased the volume of the broadcast. Steve didn’t really pay attention to it but Bruce stopped in front of him, looking over then walking towards the gathering crowd.
There were murmurs of unrest; Steve could recognize those even in a foreign country. On the screen he could see some kind of news clip, showing an enormous dark hull of a ship in the sky – a space ship because nothing else could possibly look like that. There were several other shots, perhaps from other locations, some of them less clear and grainy. There was also an image of a map, then a feed from the ground, a pillar of smoke rising in the distance.
“They’re here,” Bruce muttered. “The Chinese launched a missile at the ship. The response, apparently, wiped out an entire city…” His eyes remained fixed to the screen, his face passive yet it was a sign that his brain was working much faster.
“We need to go,” Steve said.
Bruce just nodded then turned to continue the way back to his apartment. Steve couldn’t help but look up to the sky as they walked, noticing that quite a few people were doing the same, yet there was nothing to be seen but the clouds and the familiar blue skies.
to be continued…