ONCE UPON A TIME…
It was a dark and stormy night, the inky blackness above Stark Tower split occasionally by mighty flashes of forked lightning. Inside its warm confines the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were, as usual, bickering.
“I do not understand your moratorium upon tiny horses, Friend Tony,” Thor said sadly. “I require a small steed on which Lord Cuddles may ride gallantly about the halls.”
“Lord Cuddles produces half his body weight in shit every time you stuff him full of catfood,” Tony pointed out, pursing his lips. “JARVIS, the moratorium stands. No tiny horses.”
“Such a cruel edict can only--”
“I didn’t even want a cat!” Tony glowered. “Poor Bruce is allergic and keeps hulking out when he sneezes.”
“Lord Cuddles hardly sheds,” Bruce informed them both over the top edge of his book, tone conciliatory.
“Even so -- a cat is enough. No miniature horses.”
“This is crap,” the figure declared, taking another drag from its suspiciously not-soggy cigarette. “The big boss is off His frickin’ rocker if He thinks--”
“We don’t get paid to ask questions, Hastur,” his companion sighed, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “We’re… modernizing. Updating. We’re getting Him in with the cool kids, or whatever. I have an Instagram.”
“It’s for pictures of food. Filtered food.”
“Like...beer?” Hastur tried, mouth gummy with the sour taste of cigarettes. Apparently tolerance to nicotine was one of the many traits he’d lost upon his decorporealization… these things didn’t taste half as good as they had before his last human vessel had been destroyed over the whole botched-end-of-the-world fiasco back in 1990.
“Only handmade craft microbrew IPAs,” replied his companion.
That was new, too.
“You don’t have to fucking shout, Hawkeye. You’re on an intercom,” Tony chided, reaching for his aspirin.
“Can we keep the language on the public system to a PG rating, team?” Steve interjected from who-knows-where. He was apparently off doing whatever he did with his free time -- probably reading the Declaration of Independence to a bald eagle or something.
“Whatever,” muttered Clint. “This is an emergency. We’re out of that handmade craft microbrew IPA.”
“I do protest the plan this eve,” the sizzler whined. “If not for necessity, I would leave.”
“Whatever,” Hastur said, judgmentally. “We take what we get. Let’s get this show on the road, or something.”
Clint squinted at the cracks radiating away from the nail. “Don’t you think you should save Mjolnir for more important tasks, buddy?”
“What task could be more important than this,” Thor retorted. “Our dear Captain’s art displays such majesty, such skill! Such a portrait must be made public, for it warrants many accolades!”
“It kind of looks like a page from my Unicorns are Dicks coloring book,” Clint asked, holding up a thumb and squinting at the painting.
The third member of their not-so-merry band flashed a smile full of unnerving teeth. “That very construction of iron and glass, whose forsaken self it should come to pass, must assume the mantle one Adam lost and charge humankind the ultimate cost!”
“We’re kidnapping a fucking robot,” Hastur scowled, stubbing his cigarette out on the lamp post. “It’s not exactly rocket science.”
Thunder rumbled once more as he lifted a hand and melted the security panel on the Tower’s side entrance with a vindictiveness only those who have spent hours trapped in an ansaphone could manage.
The doors to the tower slid open silently.
“Sure, Nat,” Steve said, as he put away his increasingly thick folder of documents pertaining to the Winter Soldier.
Natasha pretended to be looking elsewhere. “I’m going to have to take a...sabbatical...from the Initiative, Cap. Here’s the required paperwork.”
Steve frowned, accepting the papers, and looked them over. “Everything okay, Nat?” he asked.
“Yes, just the end of the world.”
Steve looked up from the forms and cocked an eyebrow at her. “Anything the rest of us should be worried about?”
“Not really,” Natasha shrugged.
Steve pulled out his shield-shaped stamp, and stamped the dotted line.
“This deed is shameful and best quick done,” said one. “Where will we find the chosen one?”
“Hell if I know,” Hastur replied. “It’s a fuckin’ robot, ain’t it? How many could there be?”
“A mass of cables, wires and coils will spread forth plagues of locusts and boils,” observed the third demon.
“Right,” agreed Hastur, lighting another cigarette.
“Beep, beep brrp?” squawked a tiny box, rolling over to them from the safe-haven of his charging bay. He was holding something that looked an awful lot like a fire extinguisher and peering at Hastur with suspicion.
“What the fuck is that?” asked Dormammu, scratching his chin.
The creature was perhaps four feet in height, though the reinforced titanium tubular neck radiated outwards, telescoping up to a significant height. The head was cylindrical in form, the gears swiveling on a well-oiled hinge as it pointed its powerful optical lenses towards the triad, whirring and humming at them.
“This creature will bring about the end of the world?” asked Hastur, skeptically.
“Judge not this being by its size, it inherits the laurels of our Prince of Lies.”
“Brrrp?” asked the robot.
Hastur began uncoiling the rope. Dormammu snapped a photo for Instagram.
“That’s what I said, Hot-Guy. Delivery dude is here. Who’s up for a beer-and-buttercrunch-ice-cream smoothie? Dums, I need you in the kitchen.”
“Be right down, babe,” said Clint.
“Did you just call me ‘babe?’” Tony asked.
“Who’s calling Tony ‘babe?’” Steve demanded in a jealous tone.
Strangely, DUM-E’s familiar beeping never sounded.
“Dums?” Tony asked. “Dums, are you there? Hey, J? J, is DUM-E watching WALL-E again?”
There was a long silence.
“J?” Tony asked.
“Hey, Tony?” Bruce said, over the intercom. “DUM-E isn’t in the lab.”
“I’m afraid...I’m afraid he’s completely off the grid, sir,” JARVIS answered, a moment later.
On Lexington Avenue below, a burlap sack beeped in distress as it was forcibly rolled down the sidewalk toward the 7 train.
“‘Off the grid’? How does a goddamn A.I.-enabled robot go ‘off the grid’?” Tony yelled.
“It’s finally happened,” Clint said. “I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.”
“You always were my favorite,” JARVIS observed fondly.
“It’s a Saturday,” Dormammu reasoned, far more patient than a servant of hell had any right to be. “Only twelve minutes more.”
“Bliiiiiiiip,” the robot-savior of Hell chirruped sadly, wheels catching up the burlap of his sack. Hastur grumbled and aimed a kick at his treads.
When the train finally rolled up, the demons swore and jerked awkwardly on the sack until it ripped free of the Perfect Being’s treads. They slid into the train and sat, uncaring, in the seats normally reserved for the handicapped and elderly.
As the train rocked and shivered, Hastur swiped a Clorox wipe along the metal bar before securing his grip and stuffing his other hand into his pocket. “Fucking G train.”
Dormammu sighed. “It’s one of Crowley’s projects. He really ought to branch away from public transit.”
“Where is that fuckwit, anyway?” Hastur asked, his eternal grudge writing a scowl across his face.
Dormammu shrugged, flipping through the filter on his phone. “Who uses Inkwell, anyway? Black and white is so passe… and I don’t even have signal! Crowley, ugh.”
“The methods of darkness stand inscrutable at best, we guard this great being at our Dark Lord’s behest. In safe Haven we’ll hold it, guarded til the hour that the four horsemen strikes hits and mankind’s future sours--”
“That is annoying as fuck,” groaned Hastur. As the doors opened again on Nassau Avenue a man jostled past, shoving an elbow in his spleen. “I hate humanity.”
Then he gave the other demons a thoughtful look and added, tiredly: “You guys, too.”
“Please,” Steve added, sanctimoniously.
“I was going to say ‘please,’” Tony muttered.
“Replaying surveillance,” JARVIS complied, mildly.
“What the…” Tony said, watching the three shadowy figures bypass the dismantled Ultron prototype on the workbench as DUM-E approached them and beeped a greeting.
“Fuck,” Steve finished.
“What did you say about ‘PG rating?’” Tony asked, sliding a hand over Steve’s shapely ass.
Steve flicked lovingly at Tony’s neck-hairs. “I’m not on the intercom,” he pointed out.
“Who the hell is that?” Tony asked. “Rewind that video, J. Why didn’t security--”
“I’m afraid the intruders didn’t trigger an alarm, Sir,” JARVIS explained. “They appear to be technically incorporeal.”
“Technically incor--” Steve started.
Clint took a swig of beer as he walked into the room, accompanied by Thor. “They’re demons,” he observed.
The other two quickly withdrew their wandering hands, jumped away from each other, turned, and gave Clint a confused look. “How do you know that?” Tony asked.
“I know a guy,” Clint explained. “There was a thing.” He shrugged. “Budapest.”
“I refuse to believe in demons,” said Tony. “There has to be a logical explanation. Thor, what do you think?”
“Magic,” Thor responded, staring thoughtfully out one of the picture windows while chewing a piece of toast. “Most certainly the work of witchery.”
“It’s not magic,” Tony said petulantly. “Those bastards just stole my property. My favorite property, the best thing I’ve ever built-!”
“Sir,” JARVIS interrupted. “Did you not last week refer to DUM-E as ‘a rotten bucket of bolts that can’t perform any task more complicated than a brief roll across the room without an epic fail,’ or am I remembering that incorrectly?”
“Yes,” Tony said. “But I didn’t really mean it.”
“This gives me so much context for everything you’ve ever said,” Steve said.
“My point,” Tony interjected, “Is those guys just took my stupid fucking robot, and we need to get it back. Avengers, assemble!”
No one moved.
“It doesn’t work unless I say it,” Steve said.
“Whatever,” Tony said. “Then do your thing.”
A swell of thrilling, patriotic background music accompanied the command, and in moments the assorted Avengers were dashing off to dress and supply themselves in a seamless montage of flexing abs and extremely tight pants.
Tony sighed, muttering as he walked over to his suit. “... I don’t understand how that’s any different than what I just did.”
The music segued into something that sounded suspiciously like the opening bars of ‘Star Spangled Man With A Plan’. “Oh, can it!” Tony ordered. Jarvis killed the music with a long-suffering sigh.
Ten minutes later the team had truly assembled. Tony let one curled fist hover over the large red button that opened the massive double doors of the Quinjet’s hanger. “Do we have a destination, JARVIS? What’s the homing beacon say?”
“Unfortunately, sir, the homing beacon appears to be malfunctioning in the face of magical energies surrounding our incorporeal visitors.”
“It’s not magic,” Tony repeated. “It’s science. Complicated, shiny science.”
“If scientific demons are around, there’s only one person we should be calling,” Clint pointed out, rolling his eyes.
“Stephen,” Cap agreed, his mouth pursed. “Dr. Stephen Strange.”
“Look, I owe that dude five bucks and you don’t hear me complaining,” said Clint.
“What the hell do you owe him five dollars for?” Tony asked.
“It was a bet,” said Clint.
“On what?” Tony demanded.
Clint coughed a cough that sounded suspiciously like “Steve’s virginity.”
“Are we all met?” Thor asked, hefting Mjolnir in one hand.
“Yep,” said Bruce, as he handed Tony his spare set of glasses.
“Where the hell is Natasha?” Tony asked, putting Bruce’s emergency glasses in his secret-ass-compartment, where they would be kept clean and safe until de-Hulking commenced.
“Uh. She’s on sabbatical,” said Steve.
“Sabbatical?” Tony asked. “What the hell is she doing on a-- there’s no sabbatical from the Avengers!”
“Well, you can tell that to Natasha, if you can find her,” Steve answered. “In the meantime, we summon Strange. Hawkeye, do you want to draw the pentagram?”
“Sure thing. I need, uh, silver, milk, and the blood of a virgin.”
“Virgin?” Tony asked. “Where are we going to find one of--”
Steve huffed out a sigh and held out his index finger.
“The prophets say,” said the third demon, “the Heir must come, to the corner of Flushing and Washington.” He pointed to the “Clinton-Washington” sign hanging from the ceiling.
Said heir beeped in distress from under his burlap cover.
“That…. is an oddly specific prophecy,” said Dormammu. When DUM-E beeped in agreement he turned on it, pointing an angry finger at the robot. “I beg you, let me silence this creature.”
“I warn you, gents,” said their companion. “‘Twould be unwise to mute the Robot Prince of Lies.”
The Robot Prince of Lies, meanwhile, was beeping in a panic.
“What the fuck is the probl-- Aw, fucking stairs,” said Hastur. “We’ll have to carry him.”
They heaved their captive up the stairs, into the chill night air above.
Before them, a flaming figure on a blood-red horse approached, smiling wryly.
“Hello, boys,” said War.
“Later,” Steve muttered at Tony, ears going pink.
“We cannot predict the motivation of the Enemy,” Thor intoned. “This may be the work of the Enchantress and her minions-”
“Not every mission has to involve your girlfriend,” Clint interrupted. “Why can’t we have a mission that involves my girlfriend for once?”
“But all those USO girls...all those Army boys…really?” Tony asked.
“Because you don’t have a girlfriend,” Steve said to Clint, pointedly ignoring Tony. “Besides, sometimes we don’t fight anyone’s girlfriends. Sometimes we fight nazis.”
“Or our brothers!” Thor interjected.
“In retrospect, you are intimately related to way too many of our villains,” Tony said. “Steve, we really should do something about--”
“Later,” Steve growled.
“This is the second coming of the Antichrist?” she asked, pulling off the sack surreptitiously. Her graceful eyebrows peaked, unimpressed.
DUM-E swiveled its long neck up to peer at her, then began to beep excitedly.
“It seems to me this metallic Lord finds solace in the company of our dearest War,” observed the Unnamed one.
“I have a way with machines,” War said, smugly. Her dark suit was cut trimly, a blood-red scarf tucked up at her chin. She knelt down, pressing a fingertip across DUM-E’s speaker, almost kindly.
“Aren’t there supposed to be four of you people?” Hastur asked, scowling.
War straightened and lifted one elegant shoulder in a shrug. “Famine’s been stuck in North Korea for years, Death never checks his Facebook events, and Pollution took a few years off after the whole BP fiasco, the lazy bastard.”
Then she turned her attention back to the robot butting against her shins desperately, patting its optical unit gently. “The destiny that awaits you is one of glory. I promise to keep you safe from harm and deliver you to the place you are meant to be.”
DUM-E beeped hopefully, bopping his lenses into her hip in a manner that appeared almost … affectionate.
Hastur squinted at War, lighting another cigarette. “It… likes you. Why does it like you?”
“Is it so unbelievable that someone would like me?” War asked, stealing his cigarette.
“Shh,” said Clint, as he lit a candle in the center of the pentagram.
There was a puff of purple smoke. When it cleared, and once Clint stopped coughing, there stood Stephen Strange in a long, purple plush bathrobe. He held a glass of green, glowing liquid and a maraschino cherry in one hand, a crystal in the other, and had a little tentacled creature sucking at the back of his neck.
He cleared his throat. “Ah. Ahem,” he said. “What seems to be the--”
Suddenly, Strange’s demeanor changed, suddenly alert and wary. “I sense the lingering presence of Dormammu,” he observed. “What villainy has he brought to your door?”
“Yeah, so, he stole Stark’s Special Olympics robot,” Clint explained.
“Can we please avoid ableist language in our briefings?” asked Steve. “The robot may be incompetent--”
“Excuse me?” demanded Tony. “That is my favorite robot.”
“Pardon me, Sir?” JARVIS asked irritably.
“He does concoct smoothies most excellent well,” Thor pointed out.
Strange rubbed at his chin, frowning as he looked around the lab. His eyes fell on the lifeless shell of the Ultron prototype. “I...see,” he replied. “And what is this creature?”
“Oh, that’s just a deathbot I found in my dad’s closet,” Tony replied.
“Interesting.” Strange raised a hand, waving it around the room, as if he could see something the others couldn’t. “Well. We are in luck.”
“Yeah?” Tony asked. “Are you doing a two-for-one on exorcisms this week, or something?”
“I have...ah...visitors,” Strange explained. He flicked his fingers, tore a slit in the fabric of space and time, reached inside, and tugged.
A blond gentleman in spectacles and paisley silk pajamas stumbled through.
“I, ah, I say, Stephen, this is--” He looked around the room. “Er. Hello?”
Steve stepped forward, holding out a hand. “The name’s Rogers. I’m pleased to--”
“Holy shit,” said Clint.
“Hmm?” Tony intoned, glancing at Clint.
“Dude’s a motherfucking angel.”
“Indeed,” the blonde visitor said, cleaning his glasses on the lower hem of his pajamas. “A most astute observation.”
“Verily,” Thor added, “I had assumed the gentleman was just most exceedingly gay… gayer, even, than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous--”
“No, no,” the blonde sighed. “I’m just English. Sort of.”
At that moment, the stranger reached back through the rip in the vortex and pulled through a third visitor, clad only in deep grey boxer-briefs, a tan, and dark sunglasses, carrying a riding crop in one hand and a feather-duster in the other.
“Well,” the third entity said. “It’s unorthodox, sure, but you know I’m up for anything. Frankly, Angel, I’m impressed by your commitment. Now we just need the head of a pin…”
The angel coughed. “Sorry to crush your dreams, dear, but I don’t believe that is quite what we were summoned for.”
Dark brows peaked in concern. “Awwww, but Azzy…”
“Gentlemen,” Dr. Strange said, sweeping a hand out in a grandiose gesture only slightly diminished by the clink of ice in his glass. “I present to you the honorable Aziraphale, mighty principality, former guard of the Eastern Gate and his ...close associate, Master Crowley, servant of the Dark Host.”
“Pleasssssed to make your acquaintance,” Crowley hissed, stepping forward to the edge of the pentagram and offering out a hand. Tony stepped forward automatically to take it.
“Tony Stark,” he said, with his own very sharp smile. “Nice shades. Are those Cartier?” For a moment it seemed as though their eyebrows would do battle, fierce and pointed across the shimmering edges of the pentagram, but Steve snagged Tony by the shoulder and pulled him back before the surface of the glittering wall could be breached.
“Oh, I know who you are,” Crowley mused, looking pleased.
“Tony,” Steve said, warningly. “You know better than to stick your hands into magical--”
“Not. Magic.” Tony gritted, allowing himself to be tugged away.
“Thank you, Captain Rogers,” the angel -- Aziraphale -- responded. He perched his glasses back onto his nose and glanced over at Clint and Bruce, pleased. “It’s lovely to finally meet you all. It’s nice to see so many of ours doing good work.”
“Define good,” Tony muttered, glancing between his teammates.
“Thank you, sir,” Steve said, standing straighter. He looked as though he wanted to salute the freaking angel right on the spot.
“We have a problem, Dr. Strange,” Bruce offered, stepping forward and folding his hands together. “Unknown, possibly incorporeal agents have stolen one of Tony’s robots. We have no idea why they might have taken DUM-E, but--”
“Wait, they stole who?” Crowley asked, whipping around to stare at Bruce.
“DUM-E,” Bruce said again. “He’s an artificial--”
“Oh, bugger. Not again,” Crowley groaned, pressing a hand to his face.
“Crowley, dear, is there something you’ve neglected to tell me?” asked Aziraphale, turning on his companion. Dr. Strange took one large step away from them, casually sipping on his eerie green drink.
“They took the wrong robot,” Crowley said through gritted teeth.
“Robot? Why on earth would they take a robot?”
“It’s Apocalypse 2.0,” Crowley muttered. “You know. But a more modern, stylized version. Like a remake, sort of. We have an Instagram.”
“You can’t remake the apocalypse!” Aziraphale threw his hands up.
“Not with the wrong robot,” Crowley whined. “They were supposed to activate Mr. Shinypants, here--”
He pointed at Ultron.
“Ultron?” Tony asked. “But he’s not ready; Brucey and I haven’t figured out this Pym’s guy’s notes. Some of the handwriting is way too fucking small.”
“Is this why you keep canceling Date Ni-- er, our completely platonic card games?” Steve asked.
“We’re still working out the controls, anyway,” Bruce added. “Given the current system, he’s liable to unleash armag--”
Everyone looked at Bruce.
“Exactly,” said Crowley. “And instead they took--”
“My glorified fire extinguisher,” said Tony.
“And we were just about to have smoothies,” whined Clint.
“That, indeed, is a travesty,” agreed Aziraphale. He cleared his throat and gave Crowley a very, very self-righteous look. “We will be talking about this later.”
Crowley tried to look innocent. The expression was ruined by his oddly forked tongue.
Tony frowned as he regarded the angel, and shook his head. “That expression looks so much like someone I-- hey, Steve, who does this remind you of.”
“I don’t know, Tony,” Steve said, and gave Tony a very, very self-righteous look. “Er, Sirs, can you help us locate the robot?”
“And maaaaaaybe forestall the end of the world?” Clint supplied.
“I told you, the world isn’t going to end if they don’t have the Antichrist,” Crowley pointed out, tapping on Ultron’s metallic forehead.
“Are you--” Bruce gave the demon a puzzled look. “You’re saying Ultron is the Antichrist?”
“I’d just like to volunteer the fact that only one person in this room is even a Christian,” Tony pointed out.
Steve cleared his throat.
“Precisely,” Crowley answered. “It’s why we’re prime for an Apocalypse in the first place.”
“Friends,” Thor said, shaking his head. “It is not possible; the portents are not aligned to bring about Ragnarok.”
“Oh, shit, are you one of those?” Crowley asked.
“I am Thor, Prince of Asgard, protector of the Nine Realms and wielder of Mjolnir,” Thor answered.
Aziraphale, meanwhile, was holding Mjolnir in both hands, inspecting the hammer with a look of approval. “I must say,” he said. “A fine weapon, truly.”
Thor snatched Mjolnir back, with an uncomfortable look around the room. “But truly, gentlemen,” he said, in a hasty bid to change the topic of conversation. “We require your aid; let us speak of our tiny beeping friend.”
“So boys,” she said, pleasantly, tossing her crimson hair as she batted her eyes back at the demons. “What was your next instruction?”
“Didn’t you read the memo?” Hastur grumbled.
“My package is late. USPS is unreliable even on good days,” War sighed, reapplying her chapstick
“We are to lend the Great Cleanser aid, and of his power remain unafraid,” intoned the third demon.
“What more does this magnificent harbinger of doom require to extinguish humanity?” Dormammu asked.
As everyone waited at attention, The Destroyer of Worlds chirped.
“Let me,” War said. “I speak Robot.”
And with that, she led their not-so-merry party in the direction of the Navy Yard.
There was a brief pause, a silence, and then Tony looked at Steve, and Crowley looked at Aziraphale, and both said, simultaneously, “I’ll drive.”
In the end they took the Quinjet and Clint drove.
“Boop boop beep,” DUM-E chimed.
“...once the great being has the sacred tools at his disposal.”
“Oh my god, this is taking forever,” Hastur groused with a sneer.
Beside him, the tallest of the three glowered down. “Perhaps our Lord has chosen to test the faith you mock with snide, small jests.”
Hastur whirled. “What the fuck is it with you?? This iambic pentameter bullshit has got to stop, man. You sound sound like a thesaurus someone tossed into a blender.”
“Do not call me a thesaurus,” the third growled, irritation creeping into his tone. “In this grand drama I play the chorus!”
“Chorus my ass, are you just a dick or is this some kind of personal problem?”
“You stand a mewling baby beside me, I have haunted mankind for centuries!”
“Can we just not?” Dormammu groaned, burying his hideous, fanged face in his hands -- then the phone in his robe pocket buzzed. He pulled it out, interestedly. “Three new followers,” he announced, pleased.
War was looking up at the sky. She tilted her head to one side, hair glimmering like blood in the moonlight. Then she raised a hand at the chain-link fence, and with a flash of light, the metal was severed, leaving a gaping gash. She stepped through, beckoning the others to follow.
DUM-E beeped, impressed.
As she led the way to the waterfront, she snatched a fire extinguisher, unhooking it from the wall with a careless tug.
She tossed it, caught it, and DUM-E booped eagerly. “The Sacred Bane of Fire,” she mused, thoughtfully.
Before them the East River glimmered like glass, cool and dark, the skyline of Manhattan reflected in its surface, lights dancing on the water. War -- looking statuesque as usual -- looked out over the scene, then frowned and pointed to a series of lights flying fast in their direction.
“Boys?” she asked. “Are we expecting company?”
A trumpet sounded.
“Fuck me,” Hastur said, squinting upward at the lights. “It’s a Heavenly Host.”
“Our enemies loom in the distance,” agreed the third demon. “It’s best that we call for assistance.”
“Fine,” groaned Hastur. “I guess we can call in the Armies of Hell.”
In the distance a soundtrack began to play, pumping out of the speakers of the Quinjet as it grew near. The faint strains of Iron Maiden abruptly ground out, transforming into a familiar track off the Best of Queen album.
The jet drew near and alighted before them, and in moments the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (and Crowley) emerged. And War took the Sacred Bane of Fire to her chest, muttered something quickly under her breath, and passed it into the single claw of the would-be Anti-Christ 2.0.
From the ground below, there came a rumble, and a great shaking, and in a great flash of flames came forth the Swarm, the Armies of Hell.
And the Anti-Christ, the Great Bolted Beast, did boop excitedly and unleash upon the armies of hell with their flaming swords, a great blast of chemical coolant.
And the Armies of Hell let out a mighty shriek, and the Great Beast did turn even upon his own companions, and over the shriek was heard Hastur, Duke of Hell to intone, “Oh fuck, not agaaaaaaaaain--”
The Avengers’ forward charge petered out until it was really more of a jog than a charge, then trailed off again into more of a confused walk. DUM-E shot one more tremendous, satisfied squirt of coolant at a stray demon, then shifted his treads towards Tony and began hurtling forward at his topmost speed into the open arms of his creator.
“DUM-E!” Tony cried, smashing his face happily against the cold metal of robot neck.
“Blip brrrp,” DUM-E agreed, banging him in the shin with the emptied fire extinguisher.
Aziraphale wiped a tear from his eye at the reunion, Crowley awkwardly patting him on the back as he did so.
“Huh,” the demon observed, looking warily at the fire extinguisher. “You blessed the fire extinguisher? You’re an ordained--”
“Long story,” War said, calmly.
“Budapest, right?” Clint grinned at her.
War -- Natasha -- smiled back. Thor tromped up to her and eagerly began to stroke the nose of the massive chesnut steed beside her, carelessly running his hands through its flaming mane.
Just then a bright white United States Postal Service truck rattled up through the gated entrance to the docks. The blue-uniformed driver threw the car into park, crawled out, and pulled a large oblong package from the back doors.
“Package for the Harbinger of War,” he muttered lazily, glancing around the group.
“That would be me,” Natasha said cheerfully. “You’re little late.”
The driver shrugged. “The BQE was shit. You want this, or not?”
Natasha signed, tore off the top of the box, and fished out a massive gleaming sword.
Behind the mass of Avengers, Stephen Strange’s brows crawled up his forehead like dark, hairy caterpillars. “Natasha…. you ride with the horsemen as the incarnation of War?”
Natasha shrugged. “Also a long story, contracts written in blood, one-way tickets out of Russia... I’m pretty sure this was a one-shot deal though.”
She dusted her hands off on her thighs. “Do you have a copy of my contract, Etrigan?”
The massive rhyme-laden demon looming behind Natasha waved esoterically in the air. Suddenly a thick scroll of parchment appeared from thin air, falling into her outstretched hand. She glanced over the contract, tapped one line in particular, and looked up with a smile. “Yup. Deal done, can I get that soul back, now?”
“Your unholy duties have been fulfilled, fulfilled to the letter this soul-selling bill,” Etrigan observed. “I see no reason the soul once reaped should not be returned to your hands to keep.”
Natasha held up a hand. “Before you do, I have one more use of my powers as a servant of Hell.” She grinned, then set her hand on the nose of her fire-wreathed horse. In a flash of hellish light, the creature shrunk down to a quarter of it’s height and was clip-clopping back and forth in surprise.
“A steed for Lord Cuddles!” Thor crowed, scooping the horse up with glee.
“Now,” Natasha beamed. “My soul.”
“No,” Tony said, with a groan, “There’s a moratorium on tiny ponies! Moratorium!!”