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).
Tony awakened with a painful start, his lungs burning as if he had forgotten to breathe recently. He gasped and rolled over onto his stomach, the floor hard beneath him. Something slipped along his shoulder, warm yet not entirely soft. He reached up for it, tugging it down. A jacket. Bruce’s jacket, to be exact; the one he had been wearing earlier.
Blinking slowly and adjusting his eyes to see the physical world again, Tony craned his neck to look around, feeling an immediate pressure and an itch in his chest which made him retch for a moment.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. called out, both in his mind and within the interior of the ship.
“Give me a moment.”
“Your body language suggests –”
“Discomfort, yes. It’s not… serious,” Tony finally managed to push himself to his knees then reached back to pull out the needle and threw it and the wire it was attached to away from him. It was like plugging in during the wireless age but some things worked better with cables attached…
Tony looked around. Edwin and Concordia were still there.
“Doctor Banner, Ms. Foster and Ms. Lewis are exploring the ship. Shall I guide them back towards you?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked, knowing what he was looking for.
“Sure,” Tony sighed and closed his eyes again. His neck was prickling, his head hurt, and it felt like parts of his body were numb although he could move them. “The others?” he asked.
“Securing the area. The Chitauri have not yet reached our location but the first of their ships is not far away. Estimated time of arrival is in one hour and twenty-two minutes.”
“Plenty of time to spare,” Tony commented and pushed himself up to his feet regardless of the disorientation. In the nests, Edwin and Concordia shifted, both aware of his discomfort. Tony threw them a quick look, a smile, then turned his head a bit too quickly when Bruce led the two women back into the large, circular room.
“You’re awake,” Bruce noted, stating the obvious. “Did it work, whatever you were doing?”
“Yeah, although I’m beginning to regret it,” Tony grimaced.
“Mr. Stark is jesting; he’s most pleased with the upgrades,” J.A.R.V.I.S. argued.
“Maybe I’m just not telling you,” Tony shot back.
“You can hardly conceal anything from me anymore, sir, which I consider a vast improvement to our relationship.”
“It’s like getting married,” Tony muttered.
“You… connected your brain to your AI?” Jane asked slowly. “Why would you do that?”
“Maximum efficiency,” Tony shrugged. “I don’t have to tell him what to do anymore; he’ll know it. Plus my brain, the units, J.A.R.V.I.S. and the ship are more or less in perfect synch now. Which reminds me: we have to secure the Helicarrier unless we want it blown sky high when the Chitauri arrive.”
“Sounds like a plan Fury will appreciate,” Darcy nodded. “He was so pissed about J.A.R.V.I.S. taking it over.”
Tony grinned. “I know, right?” He dropped the expression almost as quickly, focusing his mind. Concordia moved forward and past them, out through the main door.
“Are the Chitauri coming?” Bruce confirmed as they began walking towards the exit as well.
“In about an hour,” Tony nodded and looked at the man. “If you would rather be somewhere else…”
“I’ve been fighting these things since day one,” Bruce reminded him. “You of all people should remember that.” The last remark was more biting that anything he had said to Tony since they were reunited.
It wasn’t shame he felt, not really, but Tony didn’t say anything else as he struggled to wade through the expanse of sand over to the Helicarrier.
Armed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents guarded the ship, which had already been hidden in the landscape by some of the wind-blown sand. Fury strode out as they approached and Thor dropped down from the sky, the gust blowing more of the fine sand everywhere. Tony blinked against it, annoyed, but chose not to comment. “The skies won’t be friendly for much longer,” he told the others.
“We’re tracking enemy movement,” Fury agreed. “We’re prepared, but the area is too open to be properly defended – not to mention the Helicarrier.”
“Leave that to me,” Tony told him. “I’ll take care of any ships that come within range; just handle the small stuff until I’m done with the big guns.”
“I hope you have a plan,” the Director told him sharply.
“Always do,” Tony replied and turned back.
Steve met him half-way to the ship, shield in hand. Tony stopped and they stood still, tête-à-tête. It was hard to figure out what to say to a man you had first disliked, then threatened to kill, and who had, in the end, helped you to regain some control over your life. “Do you need help with anything?” Steve asked after a while. There was an earnest, open look on his face, like he would do almost anything Tony asked of him.
“I thought you were the face of justice,” Tony mused after a bit.
“What?” Steve frowned.
“I mean,” Tony fought to find the words to clarify what he felt, “you’re the embodiment of good, of what is right. Don’t tell me that was all propaganda: I fought with you, I know what I saw.”
“Okay,” Steve nodded uncertainly.
“Why are you here?” Tony gestured at the Afghan desert around them. “Why are you here, instead of trying to put the edge of your shield through my skull? I wouldn’t appreciate you doing it, make no mistake, but I…” He halted, the truth a bit too much for him to handle, which was ridiculous since it was a path he had chosen. There may have been some shoving-down-his-throat involved, but in the end it had been Tony’s own embittered feelings that led them to this place.
“I’m responsible for the destruction of entire civilizations,” Tony finally went on as Steve patiently waited for him to explain himself. “I’ve killed billions of people in only a few months. Not personally, but we both know who’s responsible. Even if we wipe out the Chitauri today, it will take decades if not centuries for Mother Nature to heal the earth, radiation poisoning to fade and scars to heal. What Hitler did and tried to accomplish pales in comparison to what I’ve done, and yet, here you are. You haven’t even punched me in the face. Why is that?”
Sand shifted behind Tony, flowing downhill and submerging his feet more deeply in it; Tony glanced briefly over his shoulder, seeing Bruce halt a few feet away but not intervening, sensing this was a somewhat private conversation.
Steve looked up at Bruce as well then returned his gaze to Tony. His eyes were sad, so very sad, and he raised one hand up to push back the cowl. “Because it’s my fault,” Steve replied, unhesitating. Tony frowned, opening his mouth to argue but Steve shook his head sharply. “I made the call. I left you on the other side of the portal. Whatever my mistakes, whatever their effect on how things unfolded… I’ve seen the signs of what they did to you, Tony, and while I’m certain you had your problems with the world, you didn’t manage them like this. You took care of them by becoming Iron Man; by becoming a hero. That’s the man I knew, and that’s the man neither the Chitauri nor anyone else can ever take from you.”
Tony blinked, feeling like someone had thrown a handful of sand in his eyes. The wind, probably, although the air was barely stirring around them at the moment, as if giving a dramatic pause to further emphasize the gravity of this discussion. “I think you’re wrong,” Tony replied in a quiet tone that lacked most of the confidence he wanted to display. “I think they took that man away, quite effectively.”
“You say they broke you?” Bruce’s voice interrupted and the man walked down the rest of the way, stopping on Tony’s right side.
“They sure as hell didn’t fix me,” Tony narrowed his eyes.
“The fact that we’re here,” Steve cut in before they could go on, “proves to me that you survived. It may have taken you a while to find that spark again, to fight off the lies and their control over your mind, but I think Pepper knew, deep down… That’s why she asked you to do what none of us dared to say out loud.”
“You heard?” Tony frowned.
“I was told,” Steve shrugged. “There were people in the shelter at that time and while some of us felt like we should trust you, not all agreed.” Which was a kind way of saying Tony had been spied on the entire time he was held captive – or after he was rescued from the clutches of the Chitauri, whichever sounded better.
Tony looked down, his feet covered in the same sand he had hoped never to see again, but which had become all too familiar during his first years as Iron Man; he may have not returned here, directly, more than once, but the Middle East hadn’t been a peacekeeper’s paradise until he took care of it. Or tried: it was an endless swamp of fighting, whatever one tried to do to stop it.
That was before he had wiped it all out; the urban population, the hiding clans, everything. In the midst of all the horror the units and the Chitauri had caused, perhaps this was the best thing that had happened – even if scholars around the world would disagree; genocide rarely solved anything, but Tony guessed it at least stopped the fighting… until new people settled in and continued where the dead had left off.
He cleared his throat, returning to the present, not thinking of the mountains of bodies hidden beneath the sand and in ruins of cities. “It wasn’t your fault,” he finally told Steve, voice firm.
A weak smile pulled the blond’s lips. “Say what you will, but I’ll always feel responsible.”
“Then you’ll be happy to know I didn’t die.”
“No, you didn’t die, but instead you came back and did this,” Steve looked around and shrugged. “The team failed you that day in New York, but…” He hung his head for a moment and decided not to go on, shifting his shield instead. “What we do today is more important, right?” he asked as he looked up again. Tony felt like if he denied him, he might just give up and crumble, so Tony did no such thing:
“Yeah. Today we turn the tide of the war,” Tony promised him and pulled his feet free of the sand. As he went past Steve, he clasped his shoulder firmly in passing. Tony didn’t ask for them to follow, knowing both Steve and Bruce would trail him back to the space ship – where Thor had already joined Jane and Darcy with Clint and Natasha.
“Where did that one mecha go?” Clint asked as if suspecting a trap.
“If you can’t see Concordia, then all is well,” Tony mused. “Means the Chitauri won’t be able to see it either until it’s too late.”
Clint looked like he might argue but decided to say nothing. Natasha leaned against his side, subtly but doing it anyway. Tony wondered if it had always been there but he hadn’t got to see it. Clint look at her, nodded, then looked away. Clearly they had decided on seeing this through and perhaps stab Tony in the back if it looked like he might be double-crossing them.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up, once again both vocally and in his head, “the first of the Chitauri ships will be within range soon.”
“Roger that,” Tony nodded.
“Range of what?” Bruce asked.
“Keep your pants on for now,” Tony reassured him and couldn’t resist a grin; he had seen so much more of the Hulk than he had ever hoped to during these past few months of battling. Bruce flushed, just slightly, and Steve shook his head in clear disapproval.
Returning his mind to the more pressing issue, Tony looked across the hallway to the circular room which was just within the range of his eyes. Opposite from the open door, Edwin stood in its nest, yet its eyes began to glow more brightly as Tony looked at it. The unit straightened itself slowly, stepping out, making an almost stretching motion; testing all of its components to make sure it was battle ready. Tony knew J.A.R.V.I.S. was running Edwin through all that, sending Tony appropriate data.
A faint roar approached them from across the sky, growing steadily louder. The ship’s sensors registered it and gave Tony the exact time they had left before the Chitauri would be upon them.
The ship trembled as Edwin walked closer, stopping just a few feet away, towering over them. Tony looked up at it, smiling fondly. It was like seeing his firstborn walk for the first time, although this was going to be far more gruesome than that. Their eyes met, human retinas and glowing mechanism, just as their minds touched. Tony didn’t need to say a word before Edwin moved out then began climbing, making its way on top of the ship where it straightened and stood like the king of a mountain, ready to challenge any who dared to oppose him.
Tony wanted to see this with his own eyes so he stepped back out to the world of sand and devastation, watching as the arc reactor burned brighter in the unit’s chest, visible and more like his own than what the other units carried inside them.
A shadow began to wedge itself between them and the sun; a Chitauri ship came into view, creating a sandstorm beneath it.
Edwin’s skin lit up in response, intricate lines focusing on its chest and arms while traveling all over its body. Where the others had been given brute strength, stamina and durability, Edwin represented a side of Tony’s life which had changed him forever.
One mechanical hand rose to the air, palm forward, aiming at the Chitauri ship. The lines of energy concentrated and released a blast so bright it almost blinded Tony, yet he looked at its brilliance as it cut through the air and crashed into the space ship, tearing through its hull and triggering an explosion within the ship.
“Yeah!” Tony grinned, feeling the same, insane delight twisting inside him as when he flew the Iron Man suit for the first time.
The Chitauri ship began to sink and finally hit a sandy ridge, slipping down, crushing a small mountain beneath it.
“Repulsor rays. Really?” Natasha huffed from the side, unimpressed.
Tony turned to look at her. “Not exactly, seeing as the materials available to me differed from those I was used to. However, the effect is… quite impressive.”
“Why didn’t you arm the other mecha with these?” Clint asked.
“Because that would have been… too close to home,” Tony shrugged.
“I think the surface charge was almost worse, seeing as they could direct it,” Steve noted.
Tony agreed and that’s why he had chosen it. He could have installed a thousand weapons inside the mecha but going with basic options made them more compact and more effective. When you focused on the right things, it didn’t take much to defeat an army of humans – an army which Tony had helped to weaponize in the past.
Two more Chitauri ships were drifting into view, breaking through the clouds. Tony sensed their weapons and told Edwin to fire at them both, although it would only wound them when it wasn’t a concentrated blast. The unit did just that in perfect synch with his mind, the ships losing altitude and opening the hangar doors to let their forces out to join the battle.
“Okay, this is where you step in,” Tony informed the others. “Good luck.”
“Whatever,” Clint muttered and took off with Natasha.
“They will be safe here?” Thor asked him, looking at Jane and Darcy who still stood by the ship’s entrance.
“Yes, just tell them to go inside,” Tony nodded.
Thor returned to the women, receiving a firm, prolonged embrace from Jane before he could draw back and take to the sky, no doubt to join the other Asgardians and seek the heat of the battle alongside them. Tony had witnessed their destructive force and knew that against the Chitauri, without his units in the way, they would wreak havoc today.
Yet another Chitauri ship arrived and Tony gave Concordia the green light; the unit emerged from the sand, rising tall close to where the Helicarrier was parked and which the newest Chitauri ship may have been targeting. While rivers of sand, earth and stone still ran down its body, Concordia braced itself, jumped on top of the Helicarrier and then took the final leap, grasping onto the ship much the same way as in their last battle. The Chitauri fired, releasing their soldiers, but it was too late. Once Concordia had a firm hold, the ship was going down, no matter how much the Chitauri struggled.
Edwin, sensing a tide turning, abandoned its post on top of the ship and ran across the sand. Its sleek, massive body moved effortlessly, regardless of the gravity or the mass it had to carry, eloquent in its every move. It approached the damaged ships that still clung to the air, fighting to stay afloat. Edwin didn’t even stop before it shot at them again, bringing them down to the ground with a ear-splitting crash and series of explosions. To finish the job, the unit moved to the nearest ship, bracing for impact and then smashing its giant hand through the hull and pulled out parts and machinery like the roots of malicious weeds.
Tony was so mesmerized by it all he didn’t really notice the other Avengers leaving his side to join in the effort of taking down the Chitauri who survived the wrath of the units. The air flashed with shots, explosions and gunfire following suit. It didn’t sound like the humans were losing but once the Chitauri ships had been completely eliminated, which took roughly twenty minutes, the units moved to kill the surviving Chitauri, thus speeding up the victory.
Smoke rose towards the skies in pillars, fires burning in the heat of the desert.
The cries, yells and screeches died down.
Once it was over, Edwin and Concordia returned to the repair ship, walking inside. Others followed more slowly; Steve’s current uniform was torn and burnt in places but he appeared fine save for a small limp. Bruce hadn’t found it necessary to transform and let the Hulk out, although there were smears of blood on his clothes – perhaps from helping others. Rhodey followed soon after them, a gash on his forehead which reminded Tony of the fact he didn’t have the War Machine suit anymore.
“That was easy,” Rhodey noted, a rough edge in his words but he appeared satisfied.
“Better late than never,” Bruce agreed.
The air stirred and Thor landed beside them, appearing unhurt although somewhat dirtied. Jane and Darcy rushed out to greet him, both grinning widely and cheering the victors.
“Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. piped up, “the Chitauri forces have been informed of their defeat here.”
“Let them shake in fear!” Thor raised his hammer in a sign that he was in a good mood and the victory had lifted up his spirits once more.
Tony, however, knew that they needed to do more than simply expect the Chitauri to swallow this. “Do we still have access?” Tony asked while checking in with the ship’s log.
“We do, sir, although I suggest we move quickly before the window of opportunity closes; they know of your conversion and will grow wary.”
“Execute the sub-programming,” Tony nodded in agreement. “Let’s slow them down a little.”
“Very well, sir. Accessing extension pack indexed as ‘Chitauri Apocalypse’. Extracting files… Beginning remote installation… Installation complete, full access granted; reboot pending.” A slight pause followed. “Necessary system functions rebooted and calibrating.” Another pause. “Calibration complete. Connecting Edwin unit to begin infiltration. Access to the mainframe granted. The program is operational, sir, and the ship systems are beginning to deteriorate.”
“Which ship systems?” Bruce’s head jerked in alarm.
Tony smiled darkly. “I may have designed a small bug to attack some of the base programming of the Chitauri fleet. It might not kill them all, but it will paralyze most of their functions and potentially crash many of their ships.”
“And they just let you do that right under their noses?” Rhodey asked.
Tony shrugged. “I’ve never trusted most people that should have earned it – and I certainly felt no love for the Chituari. As soon as I had the freedom, I ensured I had some semblance of control, should I one day feel the need to bring them down – whether we were in middle of space or actually back on Earth.”
He thought back to the moment when he realized it had to be done, on one of those dark days when it felt like his brain had just been sliced in two and his thoughts could barely form a coherent sentence.
“I hid the key components within Edwin since I always pretended that unit was a faulty one, never to be used but more like a… token of my success with the creation of others more advanced than Edwin. If I could have pulled off an actual self-destruct code, I probably would have used that, but with two minds linked to my own it would have been too complex and dangerous.” He had rarely feared being caught doing something forbidden, but in this case he had to play his part, to not expose the silent rebellion still existing because if The Engineer got wind of it, Tony would have been back on the examination table and the pain was still too fresh for him to want to repeat that ever again.
He looked up as Fury made his way over to them, flanked by a group of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. For a guy who had looked like a storm cloud for the past few days, it was as if the skies had suddenly turned sunny and pleasant. “Good work,” he praised, not saying it directly in Tony’s face but he knew what the Director meant.
“Tony just evened out the battle-field by disabling some of the Chitauri ships around the globe,” Steve revealed the latest turn of events, clearly feeling like he had to promote that in case Fury found something to complain about.
A raised eyebrow met that statement and Tony exchanged a quick look with Fury. “What happens next?” the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. asked then, taking it all in stride.
“J.A.R.V.I.S., activate the rest of the units,” Tony called out.
“Do you wish to give them a directive?” the AI asked. In the back of his mind, Tony could feel his creations coming online.
“They’ll know what to do,” Tony responded. “They know who the enemy is.” His eyes met Fury’s again, then gazed at the others. “There’s something I want to make very clear now, to you and the rest of humanity: the units – the mecha – are off limits from now on. They are not to be harmed.”
“I can’t make promises for the remaining branches of government around the world,” Fury said at once.
Tony narrowed his eyes. “You don’t want to go down that road, Director; you’ve already seen what happens.”
“Those things –”
“Are my babies,” Tony snapped. “I created them and have an emotional bond with each and every one of them. Their minds are linked to mine. You hurt them, you hurt me, and they won’t respond well to that – nor will I. That’s the only thing we have to agree on.”
“Then we’re in agreement,” Steve responded before Fury could come up with another argument. “We couldn’t destroy them before and we aren’t starting now. Since they pose no more threat to humanity, we shall regard them as our allies.”
Fury didn’t look happy, although Tony suspected it had to do with a shit-storm he was going to receive once whoever was left in the chain of command heard about this. Steve was hitting the nail on the head, however, on the fact that humanity hadn’t found a weapon against the units until now, and they weren’t going to, either.
“This is how we’ll win the war,” Steve went on. “By taking the enemy’s weapon and turning it against them. That’s all the public has to know.” His eyes found Tony’s. “That’s all anyone ever has to know.”
It was perhaps his way of saying that the world would never know their celebrated superhero had turned on them.
Tony wasn’t so certain it was sand in his eyes this time and he quickly looked away, forcing himself to focus on the events that were going to unfold across the globe now that he had declared war on the Chitauri.
He knew it was far from over but he would finish it, one way or another.
to be continued…