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).
They stood around a table in a lab that was situated a few hundred feet below ground level. It had been used for something different before S.H.I.E.L.D. took over it several years ago, Rhodey had been told, and now housed one of the last fully functional labs that were on the ground and not on the last Helicarrier.
“I’m sorry, Colonel Rhodes,” the head scientist was saying. “We may be able to fix the damage done to the War Machine armor in time, when we understand the technology well enough, but the power source cannot be replicated by anything we’re familiar with.”
Somewhere behind him, Pepper sighed. Both of them knew that only Tony’s intellect would save the suit at this point; without the arc reactor it was just a pile of very expensive metal.
“So the arc reactor is dead?” Rhodey asked for a second time, just to be sure.
“Whatever the mecha did to it seemed to drain the power,” Banner noted from the side, looking at the readings the scientists had pulled from the suit; this might not be his area of expertise but none of them got to complain about that with people dying all around them, leaving shoes to be filled.
“Why didn’t they do that before?” Fury asked.
“Yeah, I want to know that, too,” Rhodey nodded.
“Could be it adapted for the first time,” Banner frowned at the screen then turned to them, playing with his glasses by tugging them off and touching one of the arms to his lips. “It has been clear the repulsors’ energy sequence, for whatever reason, has been putting them off. Maybe this is the first time they could respond to it.”
“So we just lost our only advantage?” Fury asked and sighed with annoyance. “If we can’t fix the armor we have to move on, think of something else. Use what we have.”
“There might be a spare,” Pepper spoke up then stepped forward. “Tony may have had a spare. The first thing we should do is look around the Stark Tower at Manhattan. The building’s still standing and a small group might be able to get in with me.”
“I cannot send you out to a war zone, Ms. Potts,” Fury declined at once.
“I helped design the building,” Pepper was unfazed. “If someone’s going to find anything there and navigate the building unnoticed, it is I and whoever I choose to take with me.”
They stared at each other steadily for a long moment.
It was clear from the beginning who was going to win this one.
Manhattan, NYC, NY, USA
“I still can’t believe you handed Director Fury’s his balls,” Happy Hogan chuckled.
“I have a way with men who believe they’re in control,” Pepper replied. She smiled then checked the particle detector in the sleeve of her protective suit. “Radiation levels are not alarming,” she noted. “Don’t take any risks, though.”
They waded through the dark underground space; S.H.I.E.L.D.’s protective unit had guided them that far and were keeping watch. Thor and his friends were at the ready further away should a mecha make an appearance, yet so far there had been no sign of one.
It was quiet. They kept their lights dim, not wanting to call attention upon themselves. Rhodey was leading the way, looking small out of the armor yet Pepper knew not to count him out just because of that. Even as an airman Rhodey had more training than either herself or Happy and that was one reason why he was here.
Another was that he should be allowed to find a way to bring War Machine back to life so that he could put the armor back on and help make a difference in the decaying world.
To actually be back on Manhattan had been like entering a movie set of a disaster film; broken windows, partially collapsed buildings, fires that had burned themselves out days ago; empty streets and an unnatural silence that seemed to stretch out endlessly in every direction. If there was anyone left alive in the city, they were deep in hiding.
They found the stairs and started climbing, hoping they would find unblocked paths all the way to where Tony’s workshop and Stark Tower armory had been. It hadn’t been finished, none of it, but there might be something left. Perhaps parts for a spare suit, or even the Mark VI he had used just before the battle with the Chitauri; all that Pepper had put away and never looked at it again, like his workshop at Malibu.
Now she would have to go and find them, letting go of the pain and moving on, taking anything they could find as a last gift from the man who had left them too soon.
Those memories were a partial reason why Happy was with them; Pepper could trust him with her life and he had been through this with her. She wasn’t blind to the changes in their relationship and knew it had started to evolve a long time ago. In the middle of all this they hadn’t said the words but they both knew that with the world that might end tomorrow, they could be selfish and not spend the time they had left apart.
“Was this building always so tall?” Rhodey grunted and stopped on a floor that was as dark as everything else. It appeared almost untouched yet Pepper knew not to go exploring for supplies. She needed a break and wordlessly thanked Rhodey for the small respite. Happy found a chair from the next room and brought it back, allowing Pepper to sit down. Rhodey snorted but said nothing, and perhaps it was just the trick of their lights or he was smiling.
They rested for a moment then begun climbing again, passing floor after floor and it felt like an endless climb in semi-darkness.
“You didn’t seem too impressed by our Asgardian allies,” Rhodey spoke out during their third break.
“Oh, I’m sufficiently impressed. They are, after all, from another world and Thor is supposedly a god,” Pepper replied, itching to push back an errand strand of hair from her face but the residual radiation made her want to keep the protective suit on. At least they hadn’t been forced to make the climb in full hazmat gear of she would have demanded they fly her upstairs.
Rhodey nodded, looking around, then returned his gaze to her. “I’ve seen how you look at Loki,” he deadpanned, calling her bluff.
“Well, I’ve seen the way you look at him, too,” Pepper shot back.
There was a strained silence.
“He’s responsible for Tony’s death,” Happy commented from between them. “How are we supposed to look at him?”
Exactly, Pepper thought.
“The other Avengers aren’t thrilled about it either,” Rhodey mused. “Yet Rogers said that as long as Loki can offer us something, he’s less of a liability.”
“He’s insane and untrustworthy,” Pepper noted. “Read one book of Norse mythology and you have a perfect analysis of his nature. Who’s to say that he’s not working with the Chitauri right now?”
“He seemed rather bent on the idea that if the Chitauri win, he’s going to be toast,” Rhodey recalled. “No matter how much a messed up Norse god, I say he was genuinely afraid. He doesn’t want us to lose this war, or at least he doesn’t want to be here when it happens, yet here he is, thanks to Thor.”
“Let’s hope that’s enough motivation for him,” Happy agreed dourly.
“I don’t care if they take him,” Pepper told both men and stood up from where she had been resting her feet on the floor. “We lost Tony because of him.” Loki had opened the portal over Manhattan – over Stark Tower – and it was Loki who kept Pepper from ever saying goodbye to the man she had loved. Had she picked up that call… She hadn’t, though, but it didn’t lessen Loki’s quilt – or his punishment in the end. Pepper wanted to believe he would pay for his crimes eventually.
“We’re almost there,” she went on, leading the way to the stairs and Rhodey took the lead once more.
Up there more windows were broken, wind howling through the gaps, curtains fluttering and long-forgotten papers moving across surfaces. The night had turned into early morning and the sun would be up soon. If it looked like there was activity, they would spend the day hidden in the building then exit when it was safe once more. They had radio but they would only communicate if necessary, not knowing if the mecha would be able to track the signal.
No one trusted the technology in their hands after the Helicarriers went down.
“Here it is,” Pepper pointed at the door leading to one of the top floors and Rhodey and Happy opened it by force. It looked like a hurricane had been through there, pieces of furniture all over the place, broken and scattered. She looked around, wondering if the Chitauri had already been here. It was entirely possible yet the other floors had appeared untouched.
Maybe they had known what to look for.
They searched every inch, every upturned cabinet and broken shelf. Moving from one room to the next, they systematically browsed every surface for anything useful. There wasn’t much. Broken pieces of tech long left alone, fragments of notes, tools and abandoned circuit boards. Certainly there was no arc reactor just waiting for them.
Pepper sighed. It hadn’t been a sure thing to begin with but after the long climb she had been hopeful there would be something at least.
A flash caught her eye, brief and small. She imagined it was a glimpse of the others’ lights in a reflective surface then turned towards a doorway next to her. She heard a sound, suddenly – something that had been absent in the whole building and which seemed loud although being barely above a whisper.
She frowned and looked further, waving her light then pointing it at the floor. The sound intensified slightly without her moving and she saw a blink once again. Stepping further in, Pepper entered a room and looked around. Nothing. Perhaps just a trick of her eyes.
“Over here,” she replied and Happy soon emerged in the doorway, Rhodey behind him.
“We found nothing,” Happy said, disappointment marking his words. “Any luck?”
“No, although I thought I… Can you hear that?” she asked and they all fell silent.
“They told us they would call if a mecha was approaching,” Rhodey started.
“It’s not coming from the outside,” Happy shook his head and looked around, moving his flashlight from side to side along the narrow, long room that had only one door and no windows. Just a lot of processors and empty screens.
“I saw a light blink at least twice,” Pepper told them, not feeling so foolish now that they could hear the sound as well.
Rhodey also pushed into the room, looking around, keeping his light lowered towards the floor just like Pepper’s was. “I can’t see anything.”
Happy lowered his light too, still watching for a source of light or the continuous sound. “There’s no power in the building. There’s no power in the city unless someone has a generator. The arc reactor was disengaged when the attacks begun, so there’s no way –”
There was a blink of light, just a flicker, then one of the screen came to life. Pepper had no idea what the screen was saying, bits of data being processed too fast for her to follow. Rhodey stepped forward, cautiously, looking at the screen but appearing just as confused as the rest of them. “Is that possible?” he frowned.
“Maybe there’s a back-up power,” Pepper mused. Tony would install one, but why would it be active right now, after all this time? What kind of battery lasted for years?
The screen suddenly froze and went blank. Several more lights appeared on the processors.
“Data transfer completed,” a voice announced, then everything went dark in a heartbeat.
Pepper gasped, pressing a hand to her mouth although the suit prevented her from actually finishing the gesture of shock.
“That was J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Happy was the next to react.
It felt impossible, seeing as the AI had shut itself down years ago. There hadn’t been a peep since, not when they had needed J.A.R.V.I.S. or when the AI had been likely to offer input. Yet here, in the abandoned building with no power, J.A.R.V.I.S. had emerged and had clearly been doing something.
“Data transfer?” Rhodey snapped out of it. “What data – and where was J.A.R.V.I.S. transferring it?”
to be continued…