Title: Broken Howl
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor. Small appearances by: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine).
Pairings: Bruce/Tony, Tony/OFC
Summary: Tony is left behind after an incident on an alien moon. Thor is convinced Tony will never be the same if he survives; Bruce is furious; Steve remains riddled with guilt. Tony, in the meanwhile, struggles to come to terms with his new state of being – then finds himself torn away from the little bit of happiness he’s found.
Complete. (Sequel: "Hulk and Puppy".)
Written for: Werewolf Big Bang (werewolfbigbang), Round 3
Artist & fanmixer: sentbyfools [links: LJ / Tumblr]
Warnings: Character death (non-canon character), murder & violence, body transformation, mild sexual content both slash and het (m/m, f/m), language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers, their characters and everything else belong to Marvel. The movie versions belong to Marvel Studios, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures… in short: everyone but me. This is pure fiction, created to entertain likeminded fans, no profit made.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
About Broken Howl: This is my second fic that circles around the theme of werewolves (the first was in Heroes fandom some years ago). Might I also note that this is probably one of the least werewolf-focused fics about werewolves. Just saying.
Many characters are in need of a hug in this story.
Also, werewolf!Tony turned into a slightly adorable yet still quite frightening inumimi for some reason. I have no explanation for this, other than the cuteness factor (and the health reasons stated within the story).
Chapters and their statuses: Below you see the writing process of the story’s chapters. If there is no text after the chapter’s title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Part 1: Space
Part 2: Earth
Rain beat down mercilessly, creating a curtain of murky gray outside the cave’s entrance. Each drop was a blessing in the dry wasteland, but Tony had learned the hard way that each blessing came with a curse: he had drunk the water from a puddle several months ago, and he had been certain the cramps that followed would kill him.
He had survived, but he didn’t drink rain water after that.
As he lay there, on the hard slab of stone, far enough from the entrance so that no bouncing raindrop would reach him, he marveled at how this life had, in a matter of months, become acceptable.
“Father,” a small voice uttered from behind him. Tony heard Rya approach and then felt a small body climb over his and settle in front of him, insistent fingers pulling his arms around her form. “You are troubled,” Rya went on.
Tony shifted his head, nose brushing her unruly locks – so like his. She smelled of coconuts, too. He closed his eyes and breathed evenly, holding her slightly closer to his body.
Rya hummed a tune, while gazing at the rain. As long as the weather remained like this, they would stay in the cave and rest. Nothing moved out there now…
Another body moved in the confined space, a warmth pressing against Tony’s backside. He smiled at the closeness and turned his head, looking at the female settling down, offering his lips for a kiss. Niyal, his mate, was not human, and Tony had no idea whether referring to her as ‘woman’ was appropriate.
Niyal settled behind him, a firm body offering protection and closeness. She was tall and lean, filled with strength, and even though some of that was the beast rising to the surface… this was how she had always been, before she was bitten and infected –before her old life became irrelevant and she joined the pack that Tony liked to call ‘space wolves’; for all intents and purposes, they were werewolves, only none of them had been human to begin with.
Niyal slid an arm across his waist and wrapped it around him and Rya both.
Tony allowed his eyes to drift shut, to doze while he still could, to gather his strength before they had to move again.
Tony was frightened – and he had never been frightened about sex, of all things.
He had battled gods and abominations, visited other planets and drifted in space. He had fought villains and shady organizations at the cost of his own health and sanity.
Compared to all that, a little physical interaction shouldn’t have been anything to him.
Only, nothing felt like it should. His body was alien to him, every urge, smell and taste threatening to overthrow his conscious mind. If it weren’t for his trust in his female companion – Niyal – he might have curled up into a ball and whimpered.
“Shh,” she whispered, a hint of the wolf in her eyes, irises changing. The urge to mate was in them both, coming from deep within, from the venom ravaging their bodies. It was a mutual call they could not resist, and she had explained to Tony that this had been in the making since she’d bitten him.
Tony didn’t like to think of that, and the horrible, agonizing days afterwards.
He didn’t want to think of all he had lost – his humanity only one thing among many.
“Do you not want it?” Niyal asked.
Tony comprehended her words, her intentions. They might not speak the same language, but he understood. Rationally, he knew there was some kind of bond that had been born when he was turned, to allow them to communicate, to be part of the pack – part of a new family.
“I do,” Tony said. His fear had nothing to do with want.
She smiled and moved on top of him. Her fingers, naturally pale, traced his skin, careful around the arc reactor. A little bit of thick, strong nail was starting to appear. Tony submitted to her, lying down, waiting for any snarl that might be a command, any breath that would mean he was doing something wrong.
Niyal bowed down as she moved to take him in, their lips meeting. Her teeth were sharper but she was still herself, and the kisses soothed Tony, gave him something familiar while her body demanded him to give her what she wanted. Tony was in no position to argue. He itched to touch her, to be closer, but dared not to assume he could. She smiled, nipped at his jaw sharply and then searched for his hands, placing them on her hips, then dragged them up along her sides. There were something like scales on her skin, firm and unyielding, protecting her. Where the skin was smooth, faint hair covered it, a coating of feathery softness. Her breasts were quite human, as were her limbs and body in general, making Tony less hesitant to touch.
“You are mine, and I am yours,” she told him, breaths heavier, her hips more insistent. She wasn’t giving Tony much room to move, which meant it wasn’t necessary. “Forever.”
Tony’s hips bucked up slightly and she growled. Her nails dug into his skin, at his hips, leaving marks but not drawing blood.
She smiled at him after, and Tony felt content to nuzzle into her skin, to smell himself on her.
Tony wasn’t certain how long the days were, or if the time moved differently on the planet they were currently staying on, but it only felt like a few months had passed.
Niyal had become pregnant, which amazed Tony since they were of two entirely different species. However, what they had in common must have been enough, so when their daughter was born, Tony considered her a miracle. Niyal named her Rya, and when she was done feeding her, Tony would hold her in his arms and feel his entire world’s rotation shift and realign around this small being.
She grew up so very fast; in a matter of months – or what Tony perceived as months – Rya grew into a toddler.
“She has to grow,” Niyal explained. “She has to be able to move with the pack, to defend herself.” It was the wolf in their child, inherited from them both. Yet Rya was happy, filled with the joy of life, and didn’t think herself cursed. Tony wondered sometimes if he, too, should let go of the idea that he had been turned into an abomination and enjoy his new family and the sense of purpose it gave him.
Tony opened his eyes, alarmed.
The rain had stopped.
Rya slept in his arms, pressed close. She looked like a human child of eight or nine, and she had taken after Tony quite a bit. The arc reactor cast a pale glow on her features, but she didn’t mind the light or the low hum of the device, her cheek pressed against it.
Tony raised his head at a noise and saw Niyal crouched at the entrance of their shelter. Her eyes searched the landscape and he immediately sensed her unease. “What is it?” Tony asked.
“The pack is coming,” she replied and moved back, to get their meager belongings. “Wake her up. We must leave.”
Tony sat up and shook Rya. The girl snapped her eyes open and yawned, smiling briefly – then caught the nervous scent drifting around the cave. Small fingers pressed into Tony’s skin and she leaned closer, aware of what was happening.
Niyal got the rest of their things and then tugged Tony up, taking his hand. Tony wrapped the other one more securely around Rya and followed Niyal out.
The rocky earth had swallowed most of the rain, leaving only puddles and small lakes in its wake which splashed beneath their feet when they couldn’t go around one or jump over it. Niyal’s hand was tight around Tony’s, urging him to move faster.
Behind them, howls and barks rose towards the sky. Most of them didn’t resemble canine sounds, but Tony knew what they were: the pack had found their scent.
There was only little shelter to be found, and even if they crawled into another cave, they would just back themselves into a corner. If the others couldn’t get to them, they would be left inside to starve – or ripped to pieces once they came out.
Loose rocks fell to their feet down from a steep hill rising up on their right, and Tony raised his eyes just as Niyal did, seeing two members of the pack gazing at them, trying to find a way down to them. Soon they would either slide down or find a safer route, and the others couldn’t be far behind.
“Take Rya,” Niyal ordered. “I will hold them off.”
“I won’t leave you,” Tony insisted. How could he leave her, his mate?
“Take her!” Niyal snapped, and the primal side of Tony that had never taken orders from anyone succumbed to her will.
Rya didn’t cry. When Tony let her down to the ground in order to take the bags from Niyal, the child simply slid a hand into his and ran beside him as fast as her small feet would carry her. Behind them, snarls echoed between the rocks. Tony smelled Niyal’s transformation, her aggression – her need to protect them both.
He smelled blood soon after as the furious sounds of a fight erupted.
Rya’s hand squeezed tighter around his.
They stopped short as they reached a canyon. Tony looked helplessly around but there was no way across, and there was no safety if they went left or right – not enough to truly hide them. He looked down desperately, searching the edges of the rock-wall to locate a path down to the bottom of the canyon. The rain had swelled a river on the bottom, but if they got down, somehow, there was still ground to walk on.
Only, they would be trapped down there, perhaps without a way back up again.
“Father,” Rya said sharply, and Tony could smell them on the wind; the others were closing in on them.
In the back of his mind, it was lonely. He could no longer feel Niyal.
“Mother’s not coming,” the girl beside him said. She didn’t cry and Tony pressed his teeth together firmly, refusing the tears. Niyal had given her life to protect them, to allow them to escape. Tony had to find a way…
He chose to go right, where the rocky terrain would offer them safety from enemy eyes and perhaps they might find a way down. It was better than staying here where one slip – or push – would send them falling down to their deaths. They moved swiftly and quietly, looking right and left while not daring to glance back. The emptiness began to throb inside Tony, like his heart was beating twice as hard in order to find Niyal’s.
“Human!” a roar rose behind them and Tony froze. He looked back but couldn’t see anyone between the jagged rocks. “Come out,” another growl rose. “The hunt is over. Your alpha female is dead.”
Tony wasn’t stupid. He motioned for Rya to follow and moved forward, as quietly as he could.
“Human!” another shout reverberated between the stones. “Give up!”
Back in the day – in another life – Tony would have laughed and shoved their arrogance in their faces with an iron fist. Today was different: if they found him, they would kill him, regardless of the promises they made. What they would do to Rya, he didn’t know. If they got lucky, the pack would keep them both alive, but sooner or later they would want Tony to transform, to let the beast out, and that was as good as the death sentence his mate had gotten.
Tony pressed on until he noticed an opening. He sniffed at it, his keener sense of smell suggesting a draft coming from the narrow cave. He knew that there were labyrinths of tunnels here, from rain and erosion. If they were lucky, such a network of tunnels would provide them shelter and an escape… But just as surely they might get lost, get stuck, or die of hunger before finding a way out.
And if that weren’t bad enough, Tony had a certain revulsion towards caves, from his time in Afghanistan.
Claws scraped against stone, making him look up. A large shape stood there, on two legs with four arms poised threateningly. The gray skin was bulging with rage and bloodlust, the wolf coming through and leaving him hanging between two forms.
Tony had learned many of these alien werewolves liked that sensation, although in the heat of battle they would slip all the way to the wolf form. As long as they were just toying with their prey, however, they would stay on the verge of the transformation and some of them looked quite horrifying.
“Time’s up,” the other communicated to Tony and jumped down to their level. Four sets of fingers curled and uncurled restlessly.
Tony dropped the bags and guessed this was it. He wondered if his body might hang onto life long enough for him to rip this one’s head off and allow Rya a chance to escape. Rage bloomed beneath his skin, at the loss of Niyal, of being forced into this life and now being cornered. It was so easy to just let it seep through, all the way this time…
“No, father!” Rya cried out, grasping his wrist, tugging him back. “You cannot turn!” she insisted.
She knew… She had known, just as Niyal had. They had accepted it, even when the others could not.
The alien before them chuckled. Tony didn’t know his name, but he knew he was ruthless, like the rest of them would be once they caught up. “I have to do this,” Tony told his daughter. “Take whatever supplies you can carry and run.”
“No,” Rya growled, stepping forward, in front of Tony – between him and the alien. “You cannot turn,” she repeated, a phrase she had been taught since her birth, because at first she had not understood why Tony was different.
And then she was transforming, her body growing stronger, so small yet pumped full of strength, jaws snapping threateningly at the bigger opponent, clawed fingers slashing the air.
The four-armed alien chuckled, the sound turning into a growl half-way. “Just like the mommy,” he mused, then lunged.
Tony didn’t have time to intervene before he was slammed back into the rocks, pain momentarily blinding his senses. He heard Rya’s furious snarls and the bigger one’s roars of pain and anger. When he finally managed to open his eyes and actually see something, climbing to his hands and knees, he saw them fighting furiously: Rya was small and quick, dodging blows and leaving gaping wounds wherever she could reach, slowing the alien down.
In the end, however, four arms were more than two, and the alien gave into the wolf, allowing its feral instincts to take over. One hand slammed into Rya, taking her down. A yelp escaped her and Tony watched helplessly as the alien stomped one foot down on her small form, then reached down and grabbed her head, bones crunching.
“No!” Tony screamed, lunging forward as the dying whine of his daughter still filled his ears. Before he could get his hands on the alien, one arm grabbed him by the throat, lifting him clear off the ground.
“Look at you,” the alien wolf taunted, bloody spittle flying from his torn lips. “Letting your females fight for you… Did she regret turning you? A weakling human who cannot even howl at the moon!”
Tony saw red. It might have had to do with the fact that his throat was being crushed, that his head felt like every blood vessel was exploding. Possibly it had to do with the literally blinding rage, and his nails turning into claws, digging into the arm holding him prisoner.
“Hah! So you can turn! Perhaps you’re not so useless after all,” the alien mused.
Tony brought one leg up, toes stronger, claws sharp. They sliced his opponent’s face open and he snarled at him, pain radiating all over his body, in his chest, but this one had just killed his baby girl and he would rip his heart from his chest if it was the last thing he did.
A howl of pain met his ears and he savored it.
The arm holding him moved, and suddenly Tony was flying through the air, then down, down, further down until his backside hit a solid surface which sucked him in and enveloped him in a rushing mass of water, carrying him away, regardless of his efforts to hold on, to climb up, to resume his attacks until there was nothing left…
Tony felt feverish and sick. Like he was dying, or being turned inside out. It was almost worse than the beginning stages of the infection, but at least then his mind had been clear; now, he couldn’t have pointed up towards the sky had he not lain on his back on the ground.
His alpha female, his mate, Niyal, was beside him, a tender hand soothing across his sweaty forehead. The touch was like a ghost, there and then gone, signals mixing and not translating correctly in his brain.
“Let it come,” Niyal urged him. “Let it become part of you, and it shall be less painful. Tony…” She whispered his name against his ear, breaths warm yet they felt like ice on his over-heated skin.
He didn’t know what day it was. He didn’t know what planet, moon, or world they were on. He didn’t care. All he knew was that tonight, the planets were aligned the right way and he was supposed to go through a full transformation for the first time.
Tony had never been so afraid in his entire life, not even when he woke up in the cave with wires going under the bandages and found a hole in his chest.
Growls, snarls and yelps rose all around them. The pack had gathered around them, to witness this moment. It was important, Tony had understood; like a ritual of sorts. A coming of age, only it had nothing to do with age but the bodily transformation into one of the group – one of the pack. Well, he had already been part of the pack since the beginning, since Niyal had infected him and brought him to them when he was left behind…
Tony heaved in another painful lungful of air and felt as if his very bones were changing, grinding, popping out of the places where they belonged. His insides were on fire, every muscle cramping against what was happening, jumping beneath the strain. He wondered if this was what Bruce felt like when the Hulk took his place.
It was all gone; a world away – in another life. A life when he had been human, and not this… thing he was about to become.
The idea might have made him laugh, to retort with a few witty comments borrowing from classic horror movies, but instead he wanted to cry and plead, to make someone stop it, the pain and all.
“Don’t resist it,” another voice urged. “It will come as easy as breathing. You must allow it to remake you – to rebuild you!”
Tony was all for remaking and rebuilding – but on his terms, not anyone else’s. He had no control over this, any of this, and he was fairly certain that if he let go, he would become someone else entirely.
Something cracked, and the way it sounded, it was probably coming from inside him.
Niyal smiled, her eyes golden in the firelight, the wolf inside her staring at Tony right alongside her. Waiting. Welcoming.
Another crack, as if someone were grinding bone against bone inside him, and Tony screamed. It couldn’t be called a howl even on a good day, and it felt like something was trying to push out the arc reactor in his chest, his heart stuttering, uncertain if it should keep beating. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think, and his fingers buried into the earth and stone, their grip so much stronger than a moment ago, when he could barely grasp at the thin blanket beneath him.
Pain shot through him all over again, blinding. Tony was fairly certain his eyes were wide open, filled with tears, but he couldn’t see, and the pain tore across him again and again, as if trying to pry his chest cavity apart for further inspection.
“Something’s wrong,” a voice reached his ears.
“No, look at him! He’s… it’s killing him.”
“It will empower him!”
“Not if he dies.” It was Niyal, sweet Niyal. Tony had tried hating her, in the beginning, but the bond was too strong and she was the only one he really had left. Her hands on his face, her whispers in his ears, and her being next to him made the pain recede somewhat. His world was fading in and out, and he couldn’t breathe.
“Tony,” Niyal pleaded, “can you hear me? I think the… machine in your chest, it… You cannot transform with it.”
“Then we will rip it out,” one of the male voices rose.
Tony jerked, wanting to fold his arms across his chest, to protect the arc reactor. “No,” he struggled to speak, to push them away. “I don’t want to die.”
How many times he had been prepared to do so, but not like this.
“He cannot survive without it! Even the wolf cannot repair his heart!” Niyal argued.
There were snarls. The smell of blood.
It may have been moments, or hours – even days – but Tony suddenly felt serene and calm, and the pain was receding.
When he finally came to, they were under a shade of canvas, the air cool inside the shelter. Niyal was beside him, a cool hand running through his hair. Tony blinked slowly, feeling lethargic almost, and he smelled something like herbs. He wanted to reach for his chest, to make sure the arc reactor was still in place, then felt Niyal’s hand rest on top of it, as if in reassurance.
“You could not complete the transformation,” she whispered. “Not without dying. They say you are broken, that the wolf cannot emerge…”
Tony turned his head, slightly, seeing faint scratches on her pale skin.
She smiled at him briefly. “They tried to make you transform anyway. I protected you. I could not let them take you from me.” Her face turned thoughtful, concerned. “We cannot stay here. They will refuse you, or wait until the next alignment and make you transform then.”
And then he would die while trying to become what they wanted him to be, Tony gathered.
“We will leave when you can move,” Niyal stated. “We will make our own pack.” Tony blinked at her, uncertain. She smiled again, her hand still in his hair. “We will stave off the transformation with herbs. I will guide you to know when it is coming, and how to fight it. It can bleed through, I saw it happen, but you cannot turn fully. You can never be one of them. Not while you have this,” she finished, her other hand pressing slightly on the arc reactor – enough for him to feel it, but not too much.
Tony would have thanked her, but dreams claimed him before he could.
He dreamt of the howling wolf in the distance, but he could never catch a glimpse as it eluded his eyes.
Tony pulled himself from the river with strength he didn’t know he still possessed at this point. He had almost drowned several times, being knocked around by the current, and the taste of the water refused to leave his tongue.
He lay on the rocky ground for a long time, just breathing. If the pack found him, he wouldn’t care. He was past that, the fight drained out of him…
No one found him, and as it started to get dark, he dragged himself to the closest half-shelter he could find. The wind started blowing as on most nights, drying his wet clothing and leaving him shivering as he curled up and waited for the dawn. The fact that he was alone gnawed deep inside him. Tony felt restless, abandoned, desperate and afraid.
Niyal had been his means of survival until he learned enough to hunt on his own. This place had a hostile environment and to be left alone was a death sentence of its own. He may have escaped from the pack, but alone…
He squeezed his eyes shut and felt hot tears assault them, sliding down his face.
For a while he had dared to imagine this was going to work out, that he would make a new life for himself. New friends – a new family. It all turned to ashes in his mind. Niyal and Rya were gone, trying to protect him because he was broken. Neither of them had stopped to ask themselves whether it might be smarter to just leave him to die, because if they failed, he was as good as dead anyway.
From the deep sadness rose a sense of determination, as surely as the sun climbed back into the sky each day. Tony had lost everything, but his loss shouldn’t be in vain. He had no place left here, no hope of survival, but there was something he could do: he could try and get home.
He would make his way back to Earth – or die trying. After all, it didn’t matter whether he died trying to accomplish that or just curled up here and wasted away. The only thing he might accomplish was to find a ride home – after all, the pack had arrived on this planet somehow, and through the haze of his first days among them, Tony recalled a space ship.
Now that he had a plan, and a direction, the only question that remained was whether he would still be welcome on Earth.
It was no small honor to be allowed to visit Asgard, the Realm Eternal.
Then again, Thor had been fighting as one of the Avengers for the last few years, so it was only a matter of time before the courtesy of a visit was extended upon them. Nevertheless, Tony knew to take it seriously; he knew not to appear ungrateful of the privilege to travel to another Realm and even learn some of the secrets of the Bifrost.
Steve Rogers and Clint Barton joined Tony on this journey. Bruce Banner had refused, saying he didn’t want to risk the Hulk starting an inter-galactic incident, and Natasha Romanoff had been busy on some secret S.H.I.E.L.D. mission. It was her loss to miss such an opportunity.
Various people had prepped them for the journey, most of them telling Tony in no uncertain terms to not fuck this up. He wondered what they thought he would do, then decided he maybe didn’t want to think about that too closely. Thor was confident the Man of Iron would be much welcomed in his home, in the midst of the greatest minds of Asgard, and Tony took his word for it.
And Asgard was every bit as alien and amazing as Tony had thought it would be. Too much magic for his liking, but the mechanics were astounding and he could have privately enthused about them for weeks while the others were so much more interested in drinking, dining and sparring together; Steve’s status as the great Captain America and the leader of the Avengers made him much sought after, even in Asgard, and Clint didn’t fail to show off his skills with a bow at anyone who cared to look. Tony even heard they were setting up an archery contest to test the Midgardian skill against the rest of Nine Realms.
Their visit, however, was tragically cut short.
In part, the fault lay in Steve’s eagerness to prove that the Avengers could help wherever they were, and Thor was a good sport about it, accepting the offer at once.
This was how they traveled the Bifrost once again, to a small moon whose name Tony probably should have remembered, but he was much more preoccupied by what they were facing off against: “A grave threat,” Thor said. “These creatures travel across space, from one inhabitable place to the next. They are extremely dangerous and resilient, and have always managed to flee when facing extermination.”
It was like he was talking about cockroaches, but Tony guessed they would have to be pretty big pests to get Thor so concerned.
The indigenous population of the moon welcomed them, voicing concerns in a language only Thor could comprehend, which left the rest of the Avengers to await an explanation. As they did, Tony tried to scan their surroundings with his suit – which wasn’t really operating at full capacity this far from home. “I can’t see anything,” he told the others after a while.
“Their ship landed a day’s travel from here,” Thor noted as he joined them. “We must drive them away before they can attack the peaceful people of this place.”
“Attack?” Steve clarified.
“Yes. They are a most vicious group – and dangerous; they carry a sickness that cannot be cured by any means we are familiar with.”
“Like a virus?” Clint frowned, checking his bow.
“Aye, I guess,” Thor nodded, although Tony suspected he didn’t know what the definition of a virus was. “We will go now, if you are ready.”
“When you are,” Steve reassured, and they set out.
Tony flew ahead, to see whether he might be able to spot the space ship that had been mentioned – then saw movement on the ground. He flew lower, circling overhead, checking out the group of twelve. Almost all of them seemed to be of various, different species, which was strange. Tony had expected them to look the same, but instead if felt like a collect-them-all kind of array.
He flew back to the others, since communications didn’t work away from Earth, and gave them his report.
“That is them,” Thor said grimly. “They have gathered their members from all over the worlds, most places unknown even to us. Many of them have died in battle, but a few always survive and then spread out again to add to their ranks.”
“Must be an awesome sales pitch,” Clint noted. “Join us and raid places.”
“They are bound together by their disease,” Thor corrected. “Once you are bitten, you become one of them.”
“Wait,” Tony raised a hand. “Bitten? You mean this virus thing does something to whoever it’s transmitted to?”
“Like a werewolf, or a vampire,” Clint grinned. “Good thing I’m more prepared than good ol’ Van Helsing,” he noted, patting his quiver.
Tony was pretty sure he was the only one who got that reference.
“Tony,” Steve spoke up, “you’re the only one fully armored. Take the fight to them and drive them back while we find ways to fend them off from a distance.”
“Got it,” Tony agreed. The others were exposed, and if Thor, with all his Asgardian blood, was afraid of getting infected, Tony decided he might as well cut this short and get the job done right. He would hate for Clint to miss his archery competition, after all.
He took off again, making sure the others followed this time, finding the strange group much closer than they had been last time he flew past them. They moved fast, he could give them that. “Alright,” he called out, hovering in the air above them, “you probably can’t understand a word I’m saying, but you can either turn back or we’ll do this the hard way.”
They looked up, actually snarling at him. Clint’s comment about werewolves wasn’t that far off, especially when he watched a few of them beginning to transform into something much hairier and kind of wolf-like. Well, not wolves on four feet but some scary version of the Wolfman – only most of these aliens didn’t look human, so their versions of the werewolf were about as alien as their original forms.
“Hard way it is,” Tony decided, and shot a few repulsor blasts towards them, but hitting the ground on purpose, giving them a chance to back off.
One of them leaped up, fur almost white under the strange sunlight of the alien moon. Tony jerked and floated to the side, feeling one clawed hand scratch at his boot.
“Okay,” he narrowed his eyes, “you want to tango? I’m game,” he noted and shot at the alien wolf. It dodged, just barely, and tried jumping at him again. Those were some legs, Tony had to admit. He could have easily soared higher, to avoid being touched, but where was the fun in that? He doubted this group would get the message, and maybe he just needed to defeat one of them since the other eleven were sort of hanging back while the pale-colored one kept trying to attack him.
Tony landed on the ground hard, knowing this crowd probably didn’t care for fancy maneuvers. The pale wolf-alien was bounding at him in the next second, snarling and growling, and Tony lifted an arm to block its weight. The body hit him hard, forcing him to steady his stance, and the claws tore at the suit, scratching. “Someone will owe me a new paint-job,” Tony groused.
In the distance, thunder rolled, and he knew the others were close. Time to put an end to this –
“Sir, armor integrity is being compromised,” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice entered his ears and he jumped, slightly, as he felt the claws pry at the metal parts. Prying between them and through them.
“No fucking way,” Tony started, eyes wider as he moved to punch the thing off him. He had battled bigger, stronger and scarier, and they hadn’t gotten through his armor until after hours of trying. However, he felt a faint draft of air on his skin and looked down at his arm. There was a trickle of blood seeping through, which meant the claws had torn through to the skin. For the time being, he couldn’t feel the burn.
Tony looked up with a snarl of his own, ready to finish this, but the strong, agile body pushed against him, suddenly, throwing him down onto his back on the ground. Tony fired repulsors at it but it kept hanging on, teeth flashing, and then Tony felt a slight pressure at his neck, as if it was planning on tearing it out.
“Prep the chest RT,” Tony ground out.
Alarms flashed across the screen in front of his eyes.
J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t respond – nor did the suit.
Tony shoved a knee at the alien’s torso, making it shift to the side, but in that same instant he felt a sharpness against the side of his throat, a brief bite of pain following. He fired at it again, forcing it off him, and rolled to the side just as a burst of lightning struck down beside him, sending the wolf-aliens running.
“That was easy,” he heard Clint comment.
“Are you hurt, Iron Man?” Thor asked as he landed next to Tony.
“Ouch,” Tony snapped back and tried to get up. The suit whined but managed to keep him upright once he got that far. “You didn’t tell me these things could tear through my suit!” he shouted at Thor.
“Did it bite you?” Steve stepped forward, alarmed, shield on his arm, ready to be hurled at any enemy who dared to come close enough.
“I don’t think so,” Tony shook his head. “It tried, though.”
“Well, they’re gone now,” Clint mused. “That was easier than I thought.”
Tony muttered and they returned to the village they had been to earlier.
As Thor gave the news to the locals, Tony stripped off the suit, looking sadly at the breaches in it. He could make out claw-marks all over the front of the suit, some of them impressively deep. What the hell were those things made of? Nothing found on Earth, that was for sure; Tony felt almost like he had been dressed in cardboard, and that wasn’t a good feeling.
“Maybe you should get that checked out,” Steve noted and Tony glanced at his arm. It wasn’t bleeding anymore, but it was a nasty cut. On that note, he gingerly touched his neck, and Steve took a closer look at that, too. “Doesn’t look bad.”
Tony shrugged, feeling a bit of a sting follow the movement. “Can’t believe it just dug right through,” he muttered.
Steve let out a small chuckle and patted his shoulder, knowing better than to try and talk to Tony when his pride had just taken a beating.
Once he was done beating himself up, Tony ventured over to Thor and the god of thunder had one of the locals take him aside and wash his wounds, then dress them. Maybe it was just Tony, but the man doing it kept giving him the evil eye and muttering darkly. Maybe they didn’t like outsiders, or didn’t know how to say ‘thanks for saving us’. Tony was ushered off the miserable little cot once the man was done and he guessed he might get some rest while the others decided what to do next.
Settling down in some shade close to his armor, Tony rested his eyes until he fell asleep – and what felt only moments later, was roused by a chorus of murmurs.
It felt like he was burning up inside and there was a ring of people around him, the Avengers closer than the others.
“What?” Tony managed, then shivered.
“You have been infected,” Thor told him. “The venom is spreading through your body.” He looked so sad, so upset, and Tony frowned at him through the haze that was taking over his mind now that he was awake.
“But it didn’t bite him,” Steve argued, sounding like he had been doing that a lot.
The locals murmured worriedly – or at least Tony hoped it was worry.
“What do we do now?” Clint asked. “He’s burning up.”
“There is nothing to be done,” Thor claimed. “Save for putting him out of his misery.”
“What?!” Tony tried to bolt up.
“No!” Steve shouted in the same breath. “We’re not giving up. Just because you haven’t found a way to stop it doesn’t mean we can’t.”
“It is but a matter of hours before he will be beyond reason. I have seen this myself,” Thor kept talking. “He is beyond our help. I am truly sorry.”
Tony wasn’t certain whether he was hyperventilating from pure shock or whatever was happening to his body, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to just roll over and die.
Then again, the problem was just that: he wasn’t dying. He was… turning, or something. According to Thor, anyway, whose opinion mattered very little to Tony right now. “A little positivity here,” he managed to wheeze out, having not even realized how weak he suddenly felt, and how his every breath was strained.
The ring of people suddenly vanished, the locals leaving the three Avengers alone around him. It may have been completely conjured by his imagination, but Tony thought he heard doors slamming shut and deadbolts sliding into place.
“Great, so much for their help,” Clint snapped. “Guess we’ll have to deal with this on our own.”
“Can you get up?” Steve asked.
“I can’t fucking breathe,” Tony gasped back at him, jaw tight, painfully so, and his skin was itching, as if the burn were real and everything was turning into charred ash, prickling…
“We’ll have to get him back –” Steve started.
“Nay, Captain,” Thor refused. “We cannot take him to Asgard.”
“He’s our friend,” Steve mulishly replied. “We won’t just leave him here to… to whatever’s happening.”
Tony grunted, the pain increasing again, with every beat of his heart. His fingers searching for something to hold onto, and damn, it felt good to dig them into something.
“Uh, Cap?” Clint’s voice called out hesitantly. “His fingers are biting into the wood…”
“It’s beginning,” Thor replied urgently. “It cannot be stopped.”
“We won’t leave him,” Steve repeated, and Tony felt a hand on him, on his chest, near his face. “Tony, can you hear me? You’ll have to calm down –”
Tony opened his eyes and tried to reach for him, to snap at him, and Thor was suddenly there, pulling Steve back. The blue eyes of their leader were wide, unbelieving, and Clint was moving back as well, fingers twitching anxiously. Tony panted, staring at them, his vision somewhat blurred, the colors mixing oddly.
“He cannot be helped. We must leave him,” Thor said gravely. “I am truly sorry, Tony Stark. Your loss is a heavy burden we all must bear.”
“We can’t just leave him like that!” Clint argued, but he didn’t come back. He kept walking away, just like the others. Then they were gone.
Tony growled, deep from his chest, and he was feeling better, slightly. Invigorated. Alive. He tried to move, to get up, but his head still felt feverish and his limbs wouldn’t cooperate. It was silent around him, as if everyone had just left. His hand hit something and he glanced at it, from the half-crawl position he had managed to get himself into: a block of wood, to keep a makeshift bed slightly elevated from the ground. It had several cracks in it, as if someone had dug in – something strong.
He felt like throwing up, but he also felt empty, like everything had been carved out without him noticing…
And then he smelled her, the whiff of it hitting him square in the face, making him whimper and try to crawl again, to be closer to her, to not be so alone.
Figures emerged from the emptiness, gathering around him, and the pale one crouched before him, touching his face, calming him. “You will come with us,” she said. Or did she just think it, and Tony heard it anyway? He didn’t know. All he knew was that her touch made him feel better, filling the emptiness and giving him strength to battle the utter weakness left in his body.
He looked up at her shakily, and she smiled. “I am Niyal. We are your family now,” she told him.
Tony wasn’t able to climb out of the canyon that day so he stayed, found shelter, and tried to sleep.
He dreamt of Niyal. He dreamt of the darkness of the ship, and first coming to this planet. How he had felt so alive… even when it was merely the beginning. He dreamt of Rya, too, and their brief happiness. He dreamt of the terror of losing them both, of being weak, of being alone because of that.
Once again, the others had left him, and there was no one to take him in, no one to comfort him and make him feel at home.
Tony was on his own, and if he remained weak, he would die alone.
So, come morning, he found a way out of the canyon, found drinkable water the way Niyal had trained him, and took a heading. With his mind clear and set, he knew which way to go, back to the ship. He knew the pack wasn’t about to move on yet, so there might be no one there. Maybe a guard, or no one, because there was no intelligent life on this place – no one who would try to steal a space ship; just animals for them to feed on.
It reminded Tony that he was hungry, but he refused to contemplate that. He hadn’t been very good at hunting without fully transforming, and he had no time to build traps and wait.
He traveled all day, then at night he lay down beneath a slab of rock, digging a hole into the earth to then lay awake in the light of the arc reactor, unwilling to sleep because only bad dreams waited for him and he didn’t want anyone to catch him unawares.
The next morning he felt exhausted, but kept pushing forward, staying out of sight, trying to avoid places he knew – places where the pack might be. He couldn’t smell them, though – not even when he got closer to the ship, recognizing the peaks of stone around the area. He didn’t want to assume he had been lucky, so he moved on with full awareness of the fact that he might be torn to shreds before he ever reached his destination.
When he neared the valley the ship was in, he could finally smell someone else; a lone guard stood there, bored and unprepared. That was still a guard, however, and Tony knew he had to play this right. His hand searched the ground for a stone that fit his grip. He moved closer to the unsuspecting alien, whose name he didn’t even know. It didn’t matter.
Tony attacked as soundlessly as he could, delivering the first blow to the head with all the strength he had. The rock hit hard, making the other fall, and Tony moved to strike again. The guard snarled, already turning, and the transformation would heal some of the injury. A clawed hand tried to slash at him and Tony struck him again, the rock stained with blood. The next growl was weaker, and Tony allowed some of his inner wolf to surface, giving him strength and making him ignore the pain as the other managed to tear at him.
Finally the guard stopped moving, and Tony lifted off him, allowing the stone to fall. He smelled death and wished to scrub himself clean of it, but first he had to get away.
Getting into the ship was easy, since it wasn’t locked or secured. Locking himself inside, should someone else come to investigate, was the next thing he did, working quickly. When the doors closed, leaving him alone, he ventured over to the main controls and just stood there, looking at them, trying to comprehend.
Minutes trickled by. His eyes scanned unfamiliar symbols, searched for something he would know, or remember, then finally he sat down, took a deep breath, and hit a few dials.
The engines turned on.
Tony grinned: he was still a genius.
It would remain to be seen if that was enough to get him back to Earth.
to be continued…