Screaming. Pain. The metallic glint of knife. The man in white. The constant playing of Happy Birthday.
Steve knew that he was dreaming, but it didn’t help. It only made his senses more acute to relive the moments clearly every time, and relive the total helplessness. Then the---
Then there was insistent reassuring by a civilized male voice, and he felt a hand on his shoulder, trying to massage his tensed muscle. Steve opened his eyes and wasn’t surprised to see that it was Tony, looking at him, almost emotionless, but Steve had spent enough time with him to know that he was worried. Steve held Tony’s hand back and smiled at him. Then Steve habitually scanned the environment. He reminded himself that they were no longer in a military lab under the scientists’ scrutiny. Now they were free, in the motel where they’d taken refuge from their military pursuers, with the same dim light and the smell of old bed cloth. Steve stretched his body --- he no longer needed to, but it was a habit that linked him to the present. He asked, “Have you been recharged yet?”
Tony smirked, “Am I the kind to forget these things? Now you, wake up and eat your breakfast.”
“I hope it’s not prepared by you.”
“Everyone’s a critic.”
Steve looked and found a plate of bacon and eggs near the bedside table. He started to eat it. The bacon was over cooked. The eggs were a bit old. But he still thanked Tony after finishing the breakfast. He knew that Tony did his best.
When Steve walked out of the room, he found that Luke was here, holding Dani in the air, smiling, followed by Jessica Jones. He greeted at the family, and felt the usual tint of jealousy that Luke managed to hang on to his family in this world and the reassurance that one could still get happiness sometimes. Then Peter and MJ appeared out of their room. Bob was as usual not here, probably unwell. Then Logan came out too and his clothes smelt of alcohol. Clint came with a smirk on his face.
Steve looked and waited for the last pair of resident on their floor, and here they came, Jessica Drew in her crisp clothes as usual. Steve never stumbled on her without her looking prepared to conquer the street. Carol always had the military posture. Now the residents had met each other, they went to the common room of the floor, with Tony following Steve.
Steve and Tony chose the seat with the back to the wall. Steve saw Tony checked something on the laptop he’d brought out with him, a useless gesture as Tony could connect to all the computers on Earth. But at least it looked more... reassuring. Because when Tony connected himself to the computers with his electronic mind, he looked blank, completely still and it reminded Steve unpleasantly of the time they first met each other. Tony looked up from the computer, probably sensing his gaze and winked at him. Steve felt a bit shy, as if he’d done something inappropriate.
Not wanting to disturb Tony --- he was probably hacking into multiple databases for fun and for profit --- Steve looked up and saw Luke signalling for him. Steve nodded, coming to Luke’s side.
“I got a job. Interested in joining?”
“What kind of job?”
“Someone would like to hire us to steal a truckload of cybertech from Atlantictech. An easy run. Good money too.”
“Jessica Drew, Logan, and Peter’re all in. I just want to ask Tony and You.”
“I’m probably in, and I’ll ask Tony for you.”
“Great. Briefing in an hour. Don’t be late”
Steve was grateful to Luke for including him in the job. Luke probably didn’t need to do so, but he must have sensed Steve’s growing case of cabin fever. The motel was the only place they’d be able to stay at the lowest charge. Even walking out on the street extracted more money from your account, not to mentioned that technically Steve and Tony didn’t exist in the official records of the world because they were both produced by the military. The ironic thing was that the corp was more through than the government in finding and dealing with people who didn’t appear on their record. Therefore they both had company accounts. Honestly Steve missed the sun and the fresher air, but he knew that it was impractical to simply walk out.
Steve returned and asked Tony’s opinion. Tony agreed. Steve guessed Tony missed walking outside too. They then joined the briefing and as Luke said, it was an easy job. Simple, straightforward.
At exactly the time provided by their client, a nondescript truck appeared left the corp’s building and set out on the way. The truck was only lightly-armored and there were not many guards.
Luke made a signal and they stopped the truck before it got on the highway, overcame the driver and the guards and checked over the goods. It was exactly as the client described. The team delivered the truck to the client, received the payment and called it a night.
Steve walked onto the street and he already felt the bombardment of the advertisement messages aimed to affect your subconscious,The modification to his brain gave him more resistance to and awareness of them, but it didn’t make them less annoying. Tony guided him to an old place, which looked as if it hadn’t been touched by time since decades ago. Curious, Steve followed him and was delighted to find that it sold beautiful handmade crafts and paintings. Steve walked around the store and almost forgot the time, if not for the tinkling sense of charge paid just for standing here.
“Thanks for taking me there,” Steve said when they’d returned to the motel.
“It’s just something I found on the Internet, nothing special.”
Steve smiled. No matter how little this might be to Tony, it warmed Steve’s heart.
This night the residents all gathered together in the floor’s common room to have their regular movie night. This time Tony won the remote and so they were all watching Star Wars again. Steve couldn’t quite get Tony’s interest in the film, but he wasn’t one to resist a happy ending, to imagine that they could really live the present in a galaxy far, far away, instead of this one pale and metallic world.
It was a good night and Steve enjoyed his time there.
Tony watched Steve sleeping on the bed, calm, and felt an emotion humans would describe as happiness. He knew that Steve rarely enjoyed good sleep because of nightmares and he wouldn’t disturb this one.
Tony returned to his regular scanning of the military network to make sure that they’d covered their track well. It was almost a constant, but he wouldn’t let any chance to ruin the relatively peaceful life he shared with Steve. It would have sounded irrational, but Tony enjoyed the current state of life. Here he could played with Dani (with Luke and Jessica Jones’ permission), attend movie nights and more importantly, be with Steve.
He recalled the first time he saw Steve. Tony--- at that time, he was just a robot model with no name, just a code, --- received the order that he was to work with Steve, then known as Experiment subject Alpha on covert military missions. There was an implicit order that part of his job was to watch over the Experiment Subject Alpha and kill him when he went out of control. When he met Experiment Subject Alpha, he saw it as just another order, another mission. He had the whole data file on Experiment Subject Alpha and didn’t expect any surprise.
He was wrong.
At first he couldn’t sort out why there was a difference between working with Experiment Subject Alpha and his previous partners. Experiment Subject Alpha might be first of his kind, but his previous partners were all products of different experiments. Experiment Subject Alpha might be a wonderful soldier, but his former partners hadn’t been slouches, either.
The first time he started to figure out the difference was that he realized that Experiment Alpha wasn’t calling him a code. He was calling him a name, and for some time Tony got used to answering to this. When Tony asked why, the reply he got was, “We’re partners, and you’re not just a code to me, and Tony seems to suit you.”
Tony wondered whether Experiment Subject Alpha realized the significance of naming a robot. Tony could access studies of anthropology, cultural studies, computernetics and psychology to analyze the basis of naming to humans, but he doubted Experiment Subject Alpha could access the vast information like Tony. It made Experiment Subject Alpha... interesting.
Then came Tony’s first question not directly related to missions to Experiment Subject Alpha, “How should I call you?”
“Steve Rogers. Call me Steve.”
“Steve,” Tony repeated. Steve was a short form of Steven, which was a Greek name, with the original meaning of crown. Steve was also the one who worked with him on missions. It somehow made this Steve stand out among other Steves.
Looking back, Tony would say that the moment he no longer regarded Steve as just another experiment subject was the beginning of Tony’s downward spiral. Tony didn’t regret it though.
The next day Steve woke up and found that Tony was still on the bed. It was quite an eerie scene to saw such an energetic and vibrant person completely still, not even an imitation of breathing and heartbeat. But Steve was used to this and knew that Tony was just in the energy-reservation state,. Considering the cost of electricity needed to recharge Tony, it made sense. He did his usual morning routine, including push up, which were probably not needed now but it was bad to break a pattern. Then he went to the kitchen to make his breakfast, in which he saw that Danny was visiting here, who greeted him energetically. Steve recognized that Danny was wearing Luke’s old shirt and felt polite not to comment on it.
Steve wasn’t sure who Danny was, honestly, but he probably was a man of money, judging from his clothes and that he could afford a life outside the motel. The more important thing he knew about him was that Luke and Jessica Jones were in a relationship with him and Danny always tried unsuccessfully to persuade them to move out with him. But Luke and Jessica Jones refused, hence Danny’s frequent visits. Steve liked Danny. He was a ball of positive energy, just like Peter. Although he was a dork sometimes, he was lovable. Steve could see why Luke and Jessica Jones would start and maintain a relationship with him.
Danny poured a cup of Chinese tea from a teapot and sipped it slowly. When he finished it, he brought the outside news to Steve and jumped out of the kitchen, probably looking for Luke and Jessica Jones. Then Jessica Drew entered the kitchen and poured a cup of tea for herself, and then they made small talk. Finally more and more people got to the kitchen and Steve left with his breakfast. He saw that Tony was in the common room too. They sat together and let the comfortable silence to fill the space between them. They had known each other for enough time that they didn’t need to fill the silence with meaningless words. Steve savoured his breakfast while Tony worked on his laptop. The others were talking, eating, and generally enjoying the morning. Steve felt that life was good.
Soon there was another job from their fixer. This time it was to truck-jack a Medicorp wagon courier. It contained a large refrigerated unit containing DNA samples. The starting point and the destination were both heavily guarded, so it’d be a suicide to attack at either point. However, it’d be an easy catch on the open road. The team pulled off the heist quickly and cleanly at night, and received the flat reward for the job. Tony complaint that it was all milk runs recently, and Jessica punched him playfully, saying that he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Steve looked at their bickering and smiled.
Several weeks passed and Steve received a call from a strange female voice. It was crisp and clear and said every syllable loud and clear, as if she were speaking to a child. “I ‘m Natasha Romanova. We need to meet, you and the team. We have important matters to discuss, matters that of interest to Medicorp and Atlantcitech. If you follow me, you’ll have,” the voice quoted a very huge sum of money. “We’ll meet at McRonald at 4. No back up, just your team and I. No trick.”
Steve didn’t trust the woman. But the company names she mentioned and the sum of money intrigued him. Besides, there were hardly any safer meeting places than McRonald with its heavily armed guards, nanotech furniture and clear lines of fire.
At 4, the team went to McRonald. At the moment a woman whose appearance which shouted government, from her inexpensive black suit to the little cords hanging from her ears came in. She reached into her jacket and pulled something out, and Steve’s hand was on his gun. She must be an idiot or lunatic to open fire here...
She pulled out a badge. “Natasha Romanova, SHIELD agent.”
Natasha then briefed them about their job. She explained that she was on a the trail of a charity project called Project Hope. It was announced as a housing and charity project for the homeless. For some reasons, a mafia boss had been pouring enough money to buy out small countries in the project. Natasha’s superior wanted to know the connection between them.
“It’ll be wise for you to cooperate with us. I think Medicorp and Atlantictech won’t want to know about your night excursions.”
Steve immediately realized that they were trapped. SHIELD must have been tracing them for sometimes. He looked at the others and found the suppressed anger in their eyes. Peter turned toward him with a question in his eyes and Steve shook his head lightly. He was angry, but there seemed to be no out for now, so they accepted the job. However, the only silver lining was that the agent didn’t seem to recognize their true identities - or did she?
When Steve and the others returned to the motel --- The SHIELD agent at least had the courtesy to pay their return fee --- the atmosphere was tense. Luke didn’t say anything, but Steve could sense his anger. “If only...” Luke started, then he stopped when he saw Jessica Jones and Dani there.
“You can’t know it,” Steve said.
“Yeah, it’s all the fault of SHIELD, blackmailing us like that,” Peter said.
Jessica Drew said, “SHIELD’s powerful, and the agent didn’t seem to be making an empty threat, so we’d better go along.” Her mouth quirked. “At least we’re paid.”
“The only good thing,” Logan said.
Steve seemed calm on the outside, but he could feel that his heart beat rate increased. How much did SHIELD know about them? Did they find out who Tony and Steve really were too? Then they had to escape. Staying here not only led to increased risk of captivity, but also might involve others.
He would miss them, but not enough to bring his trouble to them. He turned to Tony and found the same determination in Tony’s eyes.
Tony could scan Steve’s increased heart rate, breath rate and blood pressure. Steve was worried and pressured. Tony hadn’t sensed this kind of tension from Steve for a long period of time.
He blamed himself. He must be turning soft, leading a too relaxed life, to not discover that SHIELD was watching over them. So far this hadn’t seem to trigger increased military search activity as far as he had checked, but it only meant that there was another unknown factor in their escape now. If Tony were a human, he would feel angry, finding it unfair that their lives were disrupted again. But Tony wasn’t, so he didn’t waste his time and instead planned for several escape routes.
Tony would keep Steve safe, at all costs. It was a promise he was determined to keep.
After they researched the Project, they found that the camps for the homeless to enroll in the Project were unusually heavily guarded. There were heavily armed guards with big and hungry dogs, and the surveillance system was of superior quality.
“There’s no way it was just a simple enrollment camp. Maybe the agent has something on it,” Luke said.
“It won’t be wise to go directly,” Carol said. “I see two ways we can get in: either through presenting ourselves as viable candidates or check out the New Environ Water and Soil Treatment Facility, which is the supplier to the camp. “
The team looked at each other, then Peter said first, “I don’t want to be interviewed.” The others nodded. Steve was among them. There were no ways he could get through something like this. He didn’t want to give anyone chance to look further into him. Finally they decided to check out the facility first.
New Environ Water and Soil Treatment Facility sounded like a nice place to work in as it seemed to be a cross between a pastoral park and an ordinary research facility, with the lush greenery and even a fountain. However, it was also lined with chain fence and heavily armed guards. “It’s weird,” Jessica said.
“Better be careful,” Steve said to them. It wasn’t necessary as they were all old hands, but extra caution wouldn’t hurt.
When they were watching, a truck moved in plastered with all kinds of warning labels: Poison, toxic, and carcinogenic. Tony remarked dryly, “It may just as well be explosive.”
The truck approached the building and the door was open. The truck moved in and the door was closed again.
At night, after enough observation, the team sneaked into the water treatment facility without attracting any kinds of attention and reached the water processing area. They walked into the pitch dark room, and there was a huge stench of pungent smell coming out of it. Steve found the light switch and switched it on, and saw that there was a pool filled with bubbling brown sludge. Steve looked away from it but a flicker of movement caught Steve’s notice. When he turned toward the pool, a head was forming out of the mud. It hissed at Steve, then limbs and a body formed out of the mud. The water was churning and another head-shape was forming. Something was very wrong here.
“It was disgusting,” Jessica said.
They then left this area and went to the computer room. Tony hacked into the mainframe computer to get the information stored inside it. When they retreated, they had to go back through the room full of mud. Steve had to wonder what they were getting into.
With the information they got, they had to take the next dangerous step: hacking into the Project Hope medical centre. They sneaked past the even heavier level of security and witnessed a daunting scene: Three medical doctors were conducting a surgery on a man to transform him into some kind of monster.
Steve hid his uncomfortable feeling from the others. It was too close to his experience. Then Tony held his hand. Steve looked back at him gratefully.
That decided it. They needed to root out Project Hope. They got to the computer centre and downloaded information from it. On their way out, they found a man that Jessica recognized as a high level executive of Project Hope. They decided to pursue him.
They pursued the executive into a passageway. Then they encountered what looked like bugs with heavy weapons. They seemed disturbingly familiar. Steve pulled out his shield and pounced on the bug soldiers, crushing them to the floor. Tony blasted from his hand at the bugs in the air. Jessica Drew pulling out her gun and started to shoot. Every time she shot, a bug soldier dropped. Luke charged at and punched through them. The alien bug soldiers were numerous but the team managed to head out the way they’d been going before were cornered. After that, they gave the information hacked from the medical centre’s main computer to Natasha and got the reward.
But Steve had a feeling that not everything was over.
That night, Steve and Tony were in their room, trying to decide on their next step. Steve felt a weird mixture of resignation and anger. He always knew that they couldn’t stay somewhere forever, needed to be always on the run, and this motel had been a place for them’d stayed the longest. He’d hoped that maybe the past wouldn’t catch up to them so fast, that they finally could have taken some rest... he should have known that it was impossible.
But where could they go? With the constant monitoring on the streets by the major corporations, it was very hard to sneak from their attention, and the corporations might sell their information to whoever they liked. The military was still pursuing them, and the SHIELD might know about what they really were. The missions might be over, but it didn’t mean that SHIELD was now harmless. Tony needed to be recharged regularly, which meant they at least need to have fuels and a generator for Tony to survive. These kinds of things weren’t easy to come by. Before coming to this motel, they were already a bit desperate. There were not a lot of options for them.
Tony stared at Steve and said slowly, “You have a better chance to mix in with the crowd and escape. Perhaps...”
“No. Don’t you dare you sneak out on me. Remember that we’ve decided to stay together, and I’ll never willingly leave you.”
Steve could remember the last time Tony left him alone out of a sense of misguided heroism and self sacrifice, and the horror he found looking at the empty space left by Tony, worrying about his situation and looking for him frantically. That time Steve almost arrived too late to get to Tony, and sometimes he still dreamt about that, only in his dream he wasn’t fast enough and saw a lifeless Tony. He wouldn’t want to experience it again. They were to live and die together.
“It’s irrational,” Tony argued. “I’d attract military attention to you. It’s wise to evaluate the risk factor and...” However, Tony felt that he responded positively to Steve’s words. It was an irrational response that he often had around Steve. Tony didn’t want to think what it implied and preferred to ignore it. He didn’t want to waste his time on impossible things.
Steve crossed his arms over his chest, chin slightly up, his blue eyes firm, and if someone needed a model for the word “stubbornness”, Tony would recommend this wholeheartedly. He was familiar with this particular expression. He couldn’t help but think about how they had first run away together.
He still remembered that at that time he was summoned by Army Colonel Ross to his office --- Colonel Ross was the old fashioned type of military who loved giving orders face-to face---, and heard the words, “Kill Experiment Subject Alpha. It’s an order.”
Tony had received similar orders before. He didn’t like them, but it was part of the military package. But Steve. It was the first time he felt so strongly against an order.
Colonel Ross continued, “It’s being too willful and uncontrollable, never a good thing. Better nip it in the bud, otherwise it’d be like...”
Tony knew what Colonel Ross referred to. Despite Colonel’s attempt to eradicate evidence, the fact that his daughter disobeyed him and ran away with a monster called Hulk was an open secret. Before Tony didn’t understand why, but he seemed to understand more the line of thought that led to this development.
After the Colonel Ross dismissed him, Tony looked for Steve and found that he was absent. Thinking quickly, he hacked into the surveillance system and found an incongruity in the record. Then he pieced together the fact that Steve had left the base unauthorized. Quickly removing any remaining evidence, Tony started to pursue Steve.
Tony remembered that when he found Steve, he found Steve’s eyes cold, and he was in the same stubborn posture. Steve then said, “I know Ross sent you, and I won’t blame you, but I won’t go down without a fight.”
“Why do you think I’ll follow Ross’ order?” Tony asked. “If you want to go, take me too.”
Steve hesitated, probably wanted to evaluate how much truth was in Tony’s words. There wouldn’t be any visible tell in Tony’s gesture, so there was no help on Tony’s front. Tony realized that the evidence was against his claim, but...
Steve gave his hand and said, “Let’s go. The military’ll soon arrive.”
This began a journey of danger and exhaustion. They needed to evade their deadly pursuers day and night, and even with Steve’s superhuman stamina, it still took a toll on him. They could only take odd jobs to support themselves and sometimes the clients had turned against them. It wasn’t a nice period of time to remember, but the memory was crystal clear to Tony, just like any other, because it might be useful for their continued survival and freedom.
With the high speed processor in Tony’s brain, his course in the river of memory had taken less than a second, but Steve still noticed it and asked, “What’re you thinking?”
“Our future plan as you decide to go against my advice.”
Steve smiled. “I’m glad I persuaded you. Now...”
They worked on their plans together and took it further, arguing, debating, all in the name of making it perfect. But their experience painfully reminded them that there was never a perfect plan, and that this was more of a ritual to ensure that they could leave a place with a clean state. When they finally had nothing to contribute to their plan any more, they stood up with their already packed things and were about to leave.
Then they stopped, because there was a knock to the door.
They looked at each other, then Tony went to open the door.
It was Luke and the others waiting outside.
If Tony had had a heart, it would have paused. Then he asked, “What bring you all here so late?”
Luke simply said, “Don’t go yet. We need to talk.”
Steve was tense. There were too many unknown variables here, and he couldn’t think it was a coincidence that Luke had appear here.
He let Luke in, but he was ready to reach for his weapon. Bitter experience had taught him not to trust people too much, but...
Then Luke said, “Listen, I don’t know who’s coming for you, and I can’t say I completely don’t mind. But the most important thing is that we’ll stand by you two.”
Steve couldn’t process what Luke said immediately. Does it mean...
“It’s not just you two who have a secret past. Only desperate people come here and they don’t stay long if they aren’t equipped with something. Everyone here has a story. I have a story. The motto here’s that we need to look out for each other, for surely no-one would do it for us.”
“But.... we may pose a grave danger to you all here. We’re...”
“Some kind of fugitives, right? I saw how you behaved around the SHIELD agent. But the point is there’s no going back, and whatever damage you have done has been done. I’m not saying that you should stay, because I don’t exactly know your situation. But in case you stay, you know you’ll be welcome as long as you pay the rent, like me and Carol and the others.”
“Well I guess I’ll return to my room. It’s my turn to babysit Dani. Just think of my words and don’t make a hasty decision.” Then he left.
Steve closed the door and spoke to Tony, “Do you think we should trust Luke?”
“What’s your view on it?”
“Luke’s reliable and I think we can trust them, but...”
“Yeah. Besides, it’s too much of a burden to them.”
“Why not decide it tomorrow?”
They stayed next morning.
Natasha came again, this time with another mission for them, to investigate the Triune Understanding local chapter. She didn’t give a lot of details about the mission, but clearly they were linked.
This time it was Steve, Tony, Jessica and Carol who planned and carried out the mission. They gathered at the floor’s meeting room. Jessica Drew was holding a mirror and looked at it, and anyone ignorant might think that she was an easy pick. They usually found it it too late to run away when they realized the mistake. Carol was also there, smiling, with her posture betraying her military training. And of course Tony, who sat by Steve’s seat, probably hacking into three computers just for fun. Despite the cloud of doom hanging over Tony and him, Steve still felt that he wouldn’t exchange much for this scene nearest to normality to him.
Carol and Jessica listened to Steve’s briefing and Carol cut to the core of the situation, “So, what’s our next step?”
Steve said, “We need to confirm the information, infiltrate the base, get enough evidence of the aliens, and exposing it.”
“I don’t mind a good explosion,” Carol said.
Jessica smiled, “You never mind explosives. You should need to restrain yourself,”
“It wasn’t what you said last night,” Carol replied.
“A gal has the right to change her mind.”
Steve waited for the flirting to stop and then distributed the tasks. Jessica was to go undercover into the local chapter and Tony would hack for inside information. Using these the team could infiltrate the hub and as Carol said, “Blow things up.”
Jessica returned from the first meeting at the local chapter and said, “Well, there’s definitely something fishy in the Triune Understanding. I thought it was just a cult which brainwashed the believers and got them to donate, but I definitely see the point of the document Tony found about the cult. It wasn’t just paranoia speaking.”
“Good,” Steve said. He trusted Jessica completely with her social networking skills.
“What about you, Tony?”
“I researched, and the local chapter definite consumes much more energy and water than a normal club house. It also has an unusually deep and big basement”
Steve nodded. Now that Tony got the layout of the chapter, it was time for the team to gather and infiltrate into the hub. They had their gear ready and sneaked into the place, with a plan to attract the least attention and cause the largest effect.
They got through the first line of defence, which consisted of genetically enhanced war dogs and heavily armed guards, while escaping the notice of the surveillance system. Then they entered the hub and went down the stairs.
A guard passed by and was about to discover them, and Jessica knocked him down, pulling him into a corner to hide him. They proceeded until they reached the basement, then they reached a door. The team nodded at each other, and Steve raised his shield up, knocking the door open.
A giant sized fly flew out and tried to get its mouth on Steve, only to be blocked by Steve’s shield. Tony crushed the alien with his repulsor shot. Then they entered the room. The room was very warm and the walls seemed to made of flesh. At the end of the room there was a sac with a human shape inside, guarded by bugs of different sizes. Then the bugs attacked.
Steve threw his shield to crush one of the bugs, then had it ready to block off another’s attack, while he needed to jump sideways to avoid another. Tony flew to lure the bugs together, then shot his repulsor at the bugs. An energy blast came out of Carol’s hand and burnt the bugs into ashes. Jessica zigzagged among the bugs and shot venom toward them.
When they finished clearing off the bugs, they torn open the sac and found there was a being which seemed once to be a human inside. Its face was disfigured, its spine was hunched and didn’t respond to external stimuli. Steve looked at it and then crushed its neck. His decision might as well be an act of mercy. Then they retreated as their tasks were finished. Natasha was satisfied with their discovery and the evidence they brought with them, and rewarded them handsomely.
The military finally came.
The gang at the motel had expected it though, and Steve found that just as Luke said, they were on his and Tony’s side.
Carol said, “You owe us one for this, but we owe you for other things, so we’re even.” while she was cleaning her gun.
Logan didn’t say anything but stretched out a hint of his claws.
Peter cheerfully put on his red suit with spider pattern while MJ smiled at them with her rifle by her side.
Even Jessica Jones put on her special fighting costume and said, “Well, I’ve missed out the fun for long. Now it’s my turn.”
Steve didn’t know how to express his gratitude, so he just said, “Let’s assemble!”
Then the battle started.
There was something good to say about the street toll extracted by corporations. It was fair to everyone, and the military soldiers weren’t exempt from paying the toll. Therefore there was pressure to limit their size and hasten the action. The time factor was against them.
The gang had set up enough traps to reduce the soldiers’ number.
“It’s like Home Alone,” MJ said.
“What’s Home Alone?” Peter asked.
“You missed out on your introduction to 1990’s US comedy.”
A landmine field was laid before the motel and because of Tony’s weird sense of humour, the mines were laid out with an algorithm that made it only navigable via steps resembling an obscure social dance. The soldiers clearly didn’t know much about social dance, judging from their performance there.
Meanwhile, the gang launched a preemptive attack. The fliers --- Carol, Jessica Drew, Jessica Jones and Tony --- flew out of the motel and launched their attack before the soldiers recovered from the shock. Carol formed energy ball in her hands and charged at the soldiers. Jessica Drew shot blinding venom blasts at them. Tony shot a lethal level of power at the enemy. Jessica Jones threw the soldiers up. They were supported with fire from the remaining members. Rifles, shotgun, laser gun... Steve had never realized that the motel was an armory before.
After they drew off the first line of soldiers, the military tanks approached. The gang held their line of defense. But Steve had to worry. If the military sent out tanks to the city streets, this meant that they really wanted to destroy them at any cost.
As if hearing what Steve was thinking, Luke said, “Don’t worry too much. At the end we still have Sentry as the last resort.”
Steve knew the weight of the words. Sentry --- Bob--- was actually a living massively destructive weapon, an open secret among the gang. There were rumours that he threw his brother into the sun, though no one could neither confirm nor deny it. Usually Bob was the quiet albeit a bit unstable guy in the motel, but everyone was aware of his potential in destruction. It wasn’t a light decision to let out Sentry.
“I hope it won’t come to that,” Steve said.
“I hope, too.”
Steve saw Luke’s worried expression and knew that Luke was worried about Jessica Jones, while he was sure that he wore a similar expression. Tony and he went on many missions together. He totally trusted Tony’s ability. But it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t worry about Tony in a battle situation.
The battle carried on.
“Stop.” A special team landed from the air and successfully warded off the military side. Steve recognized the voice as the SHIELD agent Natasha. What was she doing?
Natasha approached the Colonel and said, “I‘m in charge. There’re pardon for all of them and they’re no longer in your jurisdiction. You can check with the President, but he’ll only confirm that.”
Colonel Ross’ face was red with anger. Then Natasha whispered some words into Ross’ ear and he turned purple. But he left with his soldiers.
Steve felt a bit loss. So this was the way it ended?
Natasha then said, “My superior’s coming and one of the things he wants to mention is recruiting you all into a special SHIELD team. He bites, but he’s a good guy.”
Luke spoke for all of them, “We’ll consider the offer.”
“Consider it. It’s a very good chance for you have a brand new start. And the benefits are good. All right, I’m leaving. See you.”
Steve looked at Tony and he saw something strange in his eyes. There were worry and doubt, but there was also something alien, which Steve finally recognized as hope.