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).
Whether Fury actually managed to sell the idea of rescuing Tony, or even told the remaining leaders of the world of their discovery, Clint didn’t know. The chances were good that if the others knew and Tony was captured, he would be experimented on, tortured for information or even put to death on the spot. That would create strife between the remaining heroes and the rest of the world, plunging them to certain destruction.
That was why Clint eventually decided Fury hadn’t breathed a word of Tony’s miraculous return and some other motivation was at work when the remaining military forces began to gather outside Los Angeles. The preparations were made carefully yet swiftly, in hopes that their enemy would not notice their approach too early.
It looked like a last-ditch attack; there wasn’t much of anything left, whether it was ammo, men or spirit. They had tanks, planes and other vehicles but most of them had seen their best days before the war began.
Clint sat on top of a shipping container, adjusting his arrows. He had scraped together what he could, just like everyone else, and while it wasn’t going to be pretty it would work. It seemed like a lifetime ago when he could just walk to S.H.I.E.L.D. armory and ask for anything, expecting it to be handed to him within the next minute.
Natasha climbed up to join him, fiddling with her gauntlets. “How long do you think we’re going to last?” she mused.
“Depends,” Clint replied.
“How many mecha we’ll have against us.” Clint turned the current arrow over in his hands, looking along its length. It was crooked but not too much. He would just have to remember that when he fired this one. It made him want to sigh but instead he just grabbed another and started checking it.
Natasha was quiet, not unlike her, yet Clint could sense her unease and looked away from his work, finding her gazing at the western horizon. She had been fairly silent after they discovered Tony was alive and on a mission to kill them all. Only, if Tony really wanted them dead, he probably would have come for them already. A lot of people were counting on that, Clint knew, and he hoped they were right.
He wouldn’t mind a little help…
An alarm began to sound suddenly, blasting over the area. There was no way anyone within a ten mile radius wouldn’t hear it – which meant they were under attack. Natasha was on her feet at once, jumping down to the ground, seeking the others. Clint remained where he was, buckling his quiver in place, testing his bow again then looked up, searching the skyline. There was nothing he could see, but soon the ground began to tremble, just slightly, vibrations traveling up the metal to his feet.
Men were moving to into position all over the compound, which they had set up in a small, abandoned city and its vicinity. Voices echoing off the building walls snapped at each other, shouting commands at grim-faced soldiers. Most of them look empty-eyed, the long war and innumerable casualties having taken their toll. For months it had looked like they were losing, simply struggling to keep whoever was left alive. So many of those people had already given up hope, although many eyes looked up as Captain America strode to the head of the lines, shield glimmering in the rays of the sun, uniform fresh from the armory – one of the last ones, Clint guessed. Cap looked good today, awe-inspiring and strong, reminding them that there were still heroes left.
Clint allowed himself to smile and looked ahead again.
He saw five figures moving towards them, unhurried and languid, their heavy footfalls like a continuous, steady earthquake that got closer and closer. All of these men had seen a mecha by now – and survived. Many of their fellow soldiers hadn’t been so lucky. Clint knew he’d had a nightmare or two already of the destruction the machines had wrought.
On the far side of the compound, he could see Lady Sif and the Warriors Three adjusting their armor. Thor was still recuperating further back but he would join them in their hour of need. For now, though, Steve had put his foot down and told the God of Thunder he wouldn’t be helping anyone by bleeding all over himself. Thor had looked chastised and Jane’s pleading looks had made him decide that he would make sure the ones who didn’t participate in battle would be safe.
Even further off, Bruce was walking across an empty stretch of land which used to be a sports field. He hadn’t let the Hulk out yet but it was only a matter of time. For now he looked small and tired, waiting for the oncoming onslaught.
The tanks moved into position and began firing once the enemy was within range. They appeared slow and clumsy against the mecha, however, which could apparently calculate the trajectory of a weapon fairly well and dodged without appearing to do so. Rockets and other types of ammunition were launched, filling the air with smoke and explosions yet few of them hit the targets and Clint shook his head; they should have waited until the mecha were too close to dodge effectively.
Ground troops began to move, spreading out and finding good vantage points. Clint followed their lead, seeking high ground in a place where he would go unnoticed. Buildings were risky, easily destroyed, but he could either choose that or be trampled to death on the ground while not seeing his surroundings. He wagered it wouldn’t take long before he would get an opening to strike, but until then it was all a matter of staying out of the way and having a clear shot at the target.
The mecha never shied away from a confrontation and this time was no different; they came rushing in, ground shaking, guns going off, and soon enough there was a tank sailing through the air, crashing into a nearby house, taking it down. Debris filled the air, screams and shouts buried under the noise and Clint grimaced as smoke filled his vision from an explosion nearby. He held his breath as sand peppered his skin and sought refuge in a house, rushing through it and into the backyard, trying to seek out a vantage point in the ever-changing landscape; the Hulk had just emerged and tangled with the first of the mecha, thrashing around, creating the kind of havoc that no one would want to be within range of. Most of the tanks had disappeared and Clint could only imagine where they would be found in the aftermath; he’d never quite forgotten the sight of a 70-ton vehicle embedded in the side of a high-rise, somewhere around the thirtieth floor, after one of their first city battles.
He took a risk and climbed up the fire escape to the roof of a five-story building, knowing his vision would be blocked from a few sides but it was better than nothing. A car went flying a few streets down, followed by another; the Asgardians were clearly getting on the nerves of another mecha, making it toss anything large and heavy at the elusive fighters, which included vehicles, parts of buildings and slices of street – asphalt, pavement and all.
Clint resumed searching the area with his eyes then froze. He put his hand to his ear, activating the comm signal to the other Avengers. “I can see the big mecha, entering the city soon.” It was easily recognized, even before their earlier meeting in Malibu; it was bigger and darker, oozing with power, scanning the area. Clint fingered his bow but knew he had to wait; Tony might be in there or he might not be. Either way, they had a battle to win – after which they could deal with their teammate’s mental issues.
A group of soldiers ran past the building Clint was perched on top of and he guessed the fight wasn’t going their way; they didn’t seem to be just regrouping but running for their lives. Soon enough he understood why: one of the mecha came crashing through the next block and all Clint could do was jump and try to hit the next house as a giant mechanical foot crushed the ceiling he had just been standing on. He managed to hang onto the edge of the roof and pull himself up while the mecha moved past him, hunting the soldiers, and Clint knew that even if he fired all of his arrows he wouldn’t make a difference in helping them.
He had to wait for an opening and shoot where it counted. It wasn’t that different from his usual approach in battle but it hurt more right know, the knowledge roiling in his gut that so many of the people out there would never get to go home – or whatever was left of home.
The air stirred and Clint looked up, just in time to see Chitauri ships break through the clouds, slowly sinking lower and lower. The mecha didn’t stop, didn’t even slow down.
A flash of red rushed across the sky and blasted the largest mecha in the face: War Machine. That meant the fighters weren’t far behind. Maybe that was why the soldiers had been retreating. Clint tested his communicator, finding static on most stations. That explained why no one was telling him anything. “Piece of crap,” he muttered and tugged it out of his ear then straightened and tried to find a better spot.
War Machine was circling the dark mecha, cautiously engaging after the last incident. They may have walked out of Malibu with several arc reactors but without Tony, there was only so much other engineers could do for the suit if it got much more damaged.
The mecha whirled, trying to catch the armor as it flew past, missing only by a few feet. Rhodes was cutting it close, but then, nothing less would do now that they knew who the mastermind was behind these things. Clint started making his way towards the scene, knowing that might be the most important place to be.
While he did that, keeping an eye on the situation, he saw the chest of the large mecha shift and the smaller suit crawled out like a hatchling. This hatchling, however, could shoot back at War Machine and promptly did so. Two beams of repulsor rays met in mid-air, creating an expanding ball of light. It sparked between them, feeding them both, then suddenly blew up. Had Clint been closer, he might have been thrown back by the wall of energy that sent everything flying in their vicinity – the two suited men included.
Clint hurried forward, seeing the large mecha move towards War Machine who lay on the ground. It seemed his suit was still functioning but the way he was shifting meant Rhodes was either injured or disoriented. Knowing he could provide a distraction, Clint pulled out an arrow and fired at the mecha, drawing its attention.
The machine took a step, growling almost, appearing to hesitate between targets. Before it could choose, however, its head whipped around, body following, a furious snarl escaping its mouthless face. Clint followed its gaze and saw that Hogun and Volstagg had arrived at the scene, and it appeared Volstagg’s axe was embedded in the small mecha suit Tony had been wearing earlier.
Much as that moment should had filled him with a sense of victory, Clint also felt dread; if Tony died, it wouldn’t be the end any of them had wanted. If he lived, his retribution might be more than they could take.
For the time being it seemed Tony was alive and kicking, the suit moving to seize the axe and rip it free, bits of metal flying in the air, accompanied by what seemed like drops of blood. Next the suit hurled itself at the large Asgardian who seemed quite taken with the display of strength. The mini-mecha lifted Volstagg up and threw him at Hogun, making them both crash hard to the ground.
The suit stepped around, facing Rhodey and the big mecha. Clint knew he didn’t imagine a slight imbalance in the movements; the suit was injured, and so was the man inside.
Clint looked around. He knew that Cap was somewhere out there, hopefully with a plan. They needed to make a decision soon, before War Machine became a pancake under the mecha’s foot and Tony bled to death in the middle of the carnage.
New sounds of battle erupted around him before Clint could locate anyone from his team. Small aircrafts flashed past him, firing at everything around them; the Chitauri had finally joined the battle. Cursing, Clint jumped down from the roof, grasping at a window ledge, a pipe, some wiring and another ledge, lowering himself to the ground. He needed to find the others, to regroup and decide what they would do –
As he turned another corner, a half dozen Chitauri had just landed there. Their eyes spotted him and Clint drew an arrow, knowing he couldn’t turn and run. He shot three of them before the rest were on him and he dodged and fought, bringing two of them down and then tangled with the last one. He needed to kill this one, to move on and keep moving until they could fight back.
He thrust an already fired arrow in the Chitauri’s eye-socket and turned swiftly, bow raised. Along his arm he could see a small army of Chitauri standing there, pointing their many weapons at Captain America who looked ready to collapse to the ground. His uniform was torn and bloody, cowl ripped away.
Clint lowered his bow which was promptly taken from him. His arms were bound tightly, no room for escape. As the Chitauri moved them forward he looked at Steve who was breathing heavily. “Tell me this is part of the plan,” Clint spoke in a low tone.
The blue eyes met his, serious and tired. “I’m working on it.”
They were marched off to a clearing. Well, it had probably been a small park in the crossroad of streets but with the desolation around them, it had vastly grown in size. Clint noticed Volstagg and Hogun, already bound and on their knees and he and Steve were made to join the line. It didn’t take long before Natasha was dragged over, bloodied and still fighting, yet she calmed down at seeing the rest of them.
“Welcome to the party,” Clint joked lamely.
“Your bouncers suck,” Natasha shot back and looked worriedly at Steve’s slumped shoulders. “I saw you back there, Cap. You did all you could.”
It was a familiar speech, which meant a lot of people had died all around Steve and he had been the one left standing. From the looks of it, he had been pretty close to joining the fallen this time around.
A clang and a curse made them look up; War Machine was being dragged to the clearing by five Chitauri. It appeared his suit wasn’t working and once he was dumped in front of the rest of them, it appeared something heavy had fallen on top of him – like the foot of a mecha – and something had pierced the arc reactor in his chest, slashing a deep cut from shoulder to hip.
Chitauri were gathering all around them. The sounds of battle grew distant, dying away. Fandral and Lady Sif were brought to them a while later, yet Clint noted the Hulk was nowhere to be seen. Good. At least they still had that ace in the hole, besides Thor.
“They seem to be rather selective about their captives,” Fandral noted darkly. “The Midgardian fighters we were with were executed on the spot.”
“Not many managed to escape,” Sif agreed. “They were withdrawing but the mecha are giving them chase…”
On the far edge of the clearing, the large dark mecha was regarding them. Clint stared back at it although he knew it wouldn’t make a difference.
“Is War Machine well?” Sif asked then.
“The suit’s jammed,” Rhodes’ voice carried mutedly from within.
“Stay quiet; they might think you’re dead and leave you,” Natasha instructed.
“Don’t count me out just yet,” the man in the suit argued.
“I’m not,” Natasha shot back. “Playing dead means the others can collect you later.”
“And what will they collect?” a voice interrupted their banter. The mini-mecha suit walked over, stopping beside War Machine’s body. “Scrap metal?” The voice was distorted but because they knew its origin, it was easier to recognize.
“Fuck you, Tony,” Rhodes tried to move, shifting around a little.
“Shut up, Rhodey,” Tony snapped, one arm moving to his injured side. There was wetness there, no doubt blood. “This is on your head, partner.”
“I’ll make it up to you when you stop fucking around –”
Rhodes was cut off when Tony stomped a foot against his head. The helmet took the impact, no doubt about that, but it was a point well made.
“We can help you,” Steve started. “It’s not too late.”
“We’re past that point, Cap,” Tony retorted. “It’s been ‘too late’ for a long time. I –” He stopped mid-sentence, shifting his head, standing very still. It reminded Clint of the mecha, of the stillness they could adopt when not destroying things.
An alien aircraft flew over them slowly and landed at the edge of the clearing. It looked like a transport ship, its wide bay doors opening and letting out another group of Chitauri. However, two of them looked significantly different; one appeared slightly mauled and put back together the wrong way, while the other wore a robe and walked towards them with the likeness of the Sith in the Star Wars movies.
Tony let out a soft sound and stepped back from War Machine. The hooded figure came over first, regarding them all. It wore some kind of strange cage in front of its face, leaving most of its alien features hidden. The other one went to Tony, making a series of strange sounds, and slowly the suit unfolded and Tony slid out of it, an unhappy expression on his face.
“The mightiest defenders of Earth,” the robed Chitauri finally spoke, in plain English. “Too long you have waylaid our plans, feeding your feeble resistance with false hope of victory.”
None of them commented. Honestly, Tony would have been the one to say something, unable to keep quiet; Clint knew that for certain from the short time he had known the man. Instead the captured Avengers kept their eyes on their injured teammate, waiting for his reaction.
The robed Chitauri turned, following their gaze. “Ah,” he mused. “You have discovered the deliverer of your doom.”
“He’s not going to deliver anything if he bleeds to death,” Steve finally spoke up.
“I’m fine,” Tony snapped, so very much like himself, yet Clint wondered if he really thought he was fooling anyone. Sure, he was still standing but it was clear Volstagg’s axe had cut deep.
Before anyone could reply to that, another Chitauri aircraft arrived and one of the aliens jumped down, crouching in front of the robed figure and explaining something in a rapid voice. The hidden face whirled to look at Tony again. “They have sent planes to destroy us.” Tony’s face didn’t even twitch, as if he already knew that. “The people of Earth are ready to kill their own defenders in hopes of gaining a victory. This is the world you once served; this is the world you gave your life to.” The hooded Chitauri stepped closer to Tony, as if to better make his point. Clint was beginning to see how someone – this Chitauri, perhaps – had managed to mess with Tony’s head in order to have him turn on everything he used to believe in. “Defeat their final attack and we are one step closer to the annihilation of Earth.”
It sounded almost like an order.
Tony looked at the alien face then nodded half-heartedly. He appeared conflicted, of perhaps it was simply pain from his injury he could no longer mask. Clint could almost smell the blood, or perhaps it was one of his fellow Avengers bleeding next to him. Hell, it could be one of his own – numerous yet minor – injuries, which he had stopped counting a while ago.
The hooded Chitauri appeared pleased, turning back towards the captives. “You will witness the destruction of your world and then join it in the dark abyss of death.”
“We are not done fighting yet!” Fandral vowed. “Your downfall is near.”
Tony glanced at them and then turned, reaching towards the dark suit which had closed back down to its original shape. Before he could touch it, though, the mauled Chitauri reached for him, pulling him back. Clint saw Tony’s body tense in response when an alien hand touched his wounded side, coming away bloody.
An order seemed to be given, four other Chitauri stepping forward and seizing Tony. “No,” Tony protested, “it’s fine. I can fight.” He struggled visibly but was forced down to the ground on his back, the Chitauri holding him down as he attempted to struggle. Beside them the small suit seemed to twitch, coming to life on its own, as did the large mecha at the edge of the clearing.
“You will not resist this,” the hooded Chitauri ordered in a dark voice.
The mauled Chitauri stepped closer swiftly, making a sound then pulled something from what looked like a belt around its waist. The device, whatever it was, lit up almost like a torch without an actual flame. Its free hand grasped Tony’s clothes and pulled them aside, exposing bloodied skin – then pushed the glowing device to the flesh.
Tony howled with pain, thrashing and kicking, trying to twist away. The smell of burnt skin drifted over to Clint, making him want to gag or at least turn away. He kept looking, though, watching as the small mecha move closer, the blade sliding out in a clear display of threat. The Chitauri with the device noticed this and reached its free hand to Tony’s face, grasping his jaw, leaning closer.
A wordless exchange appeared to pass between them and Tony fell silent, his body still jerking. The mecha, both of them, went still once more, and the mauled alien went back to work. Once the wound was burned shut, the bleeding stopped, the Chitauri put away the device and motioned for the others to release the man. Tony remained on the ground, limp save for the occasional twitches, his eyes wide and filled with tears.
“Good,” the robed one stated, clearly pleased.
Tony’s head lolled towards it, then for a moment his brown eyes met those of the Avengers, gazing at them. Clint stared back intently, unsure whether what he saw was real or what he wanted to see; rebellion, pain, and recognition.
“Finish them,” the robed Chitauri commented and Tony slowly pushed himself to his feet. He carefully tugged down the shirt, clearly avoiding the damaged area, every movement pained. His eyes appeared dark even with the tears still hanging onto them, filled with resentment; for a moment it seemed he was tempted to destroy every last Chitauri in the vicinity, starting with the mauled and robed ones.
The distant sound of planes reached their ears and Tony stepped back, spreading his arms. The small suit came to life, moving forward as it opened and then engulfed Tony’s body completely, moving around once it was done and jumping up, deftly caught by the large mecha which stepped over them to move away from the clearing – towards the oncoming attack.
The robed Chitauri made a motion with its hand and turned towards the ship it had come from. The remaining Chitauri ushered their captives up, making them kneel again once inside, chaining them to the wall as if being tied up wasn’t enough.
“You saw it, right?” Clint whispered once the robed Chitauri had disappeared.
Natasha nodded, glancing at Steve.
Their leader brooded silently for a moment then appeared to come to a decision: “They’re controlling him. Somewhere in there… he’s still fighting. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, and we’re going to use that to bring him back.”
Clint wondered how they were going to do that. He doubted it would be as easy as his conversion after Loki had put him under his control.
It seemed to take forever before the door opened again and Tony walked inside, this time without the suit. The aircraft started vibrating a moment later and took off from the ground, probably taking them up to a space ship.
The mauled Chitauri appeared again, speaking in those alien sounds. Tony’s expression became more guarded by the second and when four other Chitauri approached – possibly the same four from before – he took a step back. The Chitauri dragged something in through another door; it looked like some kind of tank, filled with yellowish, thick liquid that barely sloshed around as it was moved. At the bottom of the tank lay dark shapes, like some kind of machinery with formidable looking appendices.
Once again the mauled Chitauri appeared to speak, motioning towards the tank – which clearly Tony wanted nothing to do with. He circled to the side, his stance changing, yet the four Chitauri were moving closer again. They grabbed at Tony who valiantly tried to slip away.
“Don’t,” he said, voice breaking slightly. Something appeared to shimmer before his eyes, like a screen coming to life out of nowhere. “I don’t want to –”
The mauled Chitauri stepped in front of his struggling form, slid one hand to the back of his head and there was a faint crunching sound. Tony’s body went still, his eyes open but unblinking, as if frozen. His expression went unnaturally slack. The mauled one let out a series of almost soft sounds and the four let go, stepping backwards. With its hand still at the back of Tony’s head, the Chitauri led him towards the tank, then finally moved back its hand. It looked like something slid out of Tony’s neck – or where his neck should have been but was covered by some strange ridge that continued down and disappeared under his shirt.
Tony moved mechanically, tugging off his shirt and then his pants, standing there naked and looking like he wasn’t aware of it at all. Scars marked his skin and from the base of his skull to his tailbone ran that same strange ridge Clint had spied earlier, covering his spine perfectly and looking like it had been seamlessly fixed into his skin.
At the Chitauri’s gesture, Tony turned and walked to the tank, stopping before it. His nostrils flared and eyes blinked, as if he was coming back from the zombie-mode he had been put into. The mauled Chitauri didn’t miss a beat, shuffling up next to him and seizing him by the jaw this time – much like out in the clearing where he had burned the wound shut. With that hold keeping Tony in place, the Chitauri reached into the tank and retrieved what looked like a tube with a thick needle at the other end. Without any warning he jammed that needle into Tony’s neck, through the brown-gray ridge.
Tony’s body sagged as if he had gone unconscious that very second; no one could fake that, the body going limp and losing all control of its muscles. The Chitauri, with disturbing gentleness, carefully placed Tony into the tank, submerging his body in the yellowish substance before sealing a lid over the whole thing. With one long look at the captives, the Chitauri left, taking the other four with it, leaving them all in stunned silence.
to be continued…