Ignoring the full body ache and encroaching exhaustion, Maria Hill strode down the battle damaged hall of the Helicarrier, rattling off a rather disheartening list. “Engineering reports that it will take several weeks to repair the engines alone. One is structurally sound, but still completely off-line, two and four overheated from the strain and all their relays will need to be replaced. Three incurred major structural damage, though the rotor may be salvageable. According to Kapoor, it's a good thing we set down when we did.”
She didn't have to tell Fury that they had been mere minutes from total engine failure. Had they still been airborne, they would've fallen like a rock instead of settling (albeit less gently than usual) on the open ocean.
“We also suffered major damage to the coolant systems, lower hangar bay and wishbone observation levels. Detention level sustained minor damage, though the drop away cell was lost. About half of the onboard labs were destroyed by the concussive blast originating from engine three and the techs are still trying to counteract the damage done by the virus that shutdown engine one. Almost every deck suffered explosive damage from grenades and bullets…We won't be airborne for months, sir.”
Beside her, Director Nick Fury nodded and heaved a heavy sigh. As the Council was displeased (to put it mildly) with him, it was unlikely any requests for funding would be granted. It was a good thing Fury believed in being prepared for any eventuality. Maria knew there were multiple, well hidden slush funds…well, perhaps knew was overstating.
Only Fury really knew the details regarding the off book accounts.
“Casualties?” he asked, giving a nod to battered young age and hurrying past. One of the boys sleeves was torn open, revealing a raw looking red burn on freckled skin.
Compared to many others, he'd gotten off easy. They've lost many good men and women during the conflict. “87 confirmed dead,” she replied bleakly. “Dr. Mata’s people have been too busy to submit a full accounting of injured personnel, but I think it's safe to assume the list is long.”
He nodded grimly. Those who didn't know Fury would think he didn't care, but Maria knew better. The Director cared, but he also knew when to put emotion aside and display nothing. There were those in positions of power who would use any perceived weakness against him.
“Have you been to medical, had that looked at?” he asked, motioning to the cuts and rather spectacular bruising that had bloomed on her cheekbone in the day since the battle.
Maria shook her head, then realize where they were headed. That she had noted the slightly less damaged area (the infirmary had not been a priority for Loki's boarding party), indicated that perhaps she should have had the injuries examined earlier. Exhaustion and head injuries were not conducive to clear thinking.
They stepped into the main medical bay to find a wrung out group of nurses and doctors still treating a variety of injuries, having triaged the more serious cases earlier. A few agents attempted to come to attention at the site of Fury, but he waved them off, catching the attention of the nearest nurse. “Where's Mata?”
The younger man, a former Navy corpsman, if Maria recalled correctly, nodded to a door at the far end of the room. “We converted the lab into an ICU, put the more critical in there.”
“Thank you, son,” Fury said kindly, then patted the shoulder of the female agent on the treatment couch before heading toward the door.
Maria followed him.
Dr. Lenore Mata had been hand-picked by Fury for the position of chief medical officer aboard the Helicarrier. A former Army trauma surgeon with combat experience and an unflinchingly professional demeanor, Maria thought her good choice.
Normally, the tall, dark-haired doctor wore her uniform under a white lab coat, but today was not a normal day. Today, she wore rumpled scrubs, slightly bloodstained, and her once tight braid was no longer tight. Mata was checking the readouts on her tablet computer (linked to the infirmary systems), but looked up at their entrance.
“Nora,” Fury said briskly, not approaching the beds where the badly injured agents lay. “Status.”
The doctor frowned. “Respectfully, sir, too damn busy to file a report.”
“I don't want to report,” Fury replied easily and Maria thought that, on any other day, he would have been more amused by the doctors disgruntled attitude. “Just an update on your special patient.”
Special patient?, Maria wondered, unsure what they were talking about. She greatly disliked that feeling.
“Doing well,” the doctor said, waving them to follow her over to where privacy curtain had been drawn around bed. “We reinflated his lung and patched the nicked aorta. He'll be intubated for a while, best to let the respirator breathe for him until that lung heals a bit, but barring complications, I see no reason he won't make a full recovery.”
Maria only listened to most of the doctors statement with half an ear, as she froze in shock the moment she stepped beyond the curtain.
Laying on the bed, skin nearly as white as the sheet pulled halfway up his chest, Phil Coulson slept the sleep of the injured and heavily medicated…very clearly not dead, despite Director Fury’s earlier indication.
No, not an indication, he had out right said Phil had died!
Things suddenly fell into place in Maria's rattled mind. Fury had told Captain Rogers, Stark and the others that Phil had died in order to make Loki's attack more personal, to give them that push they needed to come together as a team. He'd even bloodied Phil’s Captain America trading cards to use as a prop to drive home his point.
It was…a brillian play.
Utterly ruthless, but brilliant.
Maria could respect it as a tactic, but on a personal, human level it was chilling.
She wondered if the Avengers would feel the same way, or if they would express dislike at the idea of having been so manipulated.
Though she knew they'd be pleased to hear Phil hadn't actually died, what Fury had done probably wouldn't sit well with any of the team.
Lovely. Now she'd have to add doing damage control to placate a group of cranky, superpowered, deadly assets to her list of duties.
Not a pleasant thought, but at the moment she was too tired (and to relieved to see her fellow agent alive) to care.
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Sitting in the den of one of the less damaged floors of Stark Tower, Pepper Potts wondered how this had become her life.
Well, obviously, she knew it had all begun when she was 22, fresh out of college and somehow found herself being offered the position of personal assistant/babysitter/wrangler to Tony Stark. 47 assorted men and women with far more experience than she had held the post before her in the five years since Tony had taken over as CEO of Stark Enterprises and the most successful of that lot had only lasted three months.
It had been a daunting prospect, working for Tony, but she quickly found she had a knack for dealing with the eccentric genius. Many crazy years later, she was dating Tony (who had added superheroing to his list hobbies) and more or less running his company. She'd even been CEO for a time, but that hadn't been good for her stress levels.
She just really gotten used the idea of him flying around in his Iron Man suit when the idea of the Avengers Initiative came into their world. It had been shelved for time, but due to the recent attempted alien invasion, Tony was now a part of the team of heroes…all of whom were magnets for crazy.
She waited at Stark Tower, shaking her head up partially demolished area. JARVIS had already told her how the glass wall had initially been shattered and she was planning to have words with Tony about antagonizing megalomaniacal alien/god beings who already disliked him.
To her surprise, Tony hadn't come home alone. He'd happily introduced her to Dr. Bruce Banner (who would apparently be living in the tower now) and she was not at all surprised to see the aching exhaustion both men were trying desperately to hide. When she asked Tony about what had happened, he deflected, clearly not wanting to talk about something.
This did not make her happy, as he was sporting more than a few injuries.
As Bruce wandered around, making intrigued sounds at the tech, Pepper distracted Tony with the preliminary redesign/repair schematics JARVIS had already mocked up. He immediately attacked the plans (with that overly tired, manic fervor she was so familiar with), giving her a moment to step away and pull out her phone.
She called Phil, but it just went to voicemail. Her second attempt was more successful and Natasha answered on the first ring. “What?”
“Natasha, this is Pepper Potts. I'm just calling to ask…I know the fight couldn't have been easy on any of you, but I have a feeling that something Tony won't tell me,” she said quietly. “May I ask…?”
She wasn't truly sure what to ask, but Natasha heaved an understanding sigh. “The higher-ups ordered the city nuked when they thought we weren't going to be able to turn back the Chitauri. Tony flew the missile up through the portal, almost didn't make it back before we had to close it. He was unconscious and Dr. Banner had to prevent him from falling to his death.” Pepper’s breath caught in her throat, but she heard the tremor in the other woman's voice as she continued, “Loki killed Phil Coulson.”
That made Pepper gasp. “Oh! No, how…no, I don't want hear that over the phone. Where are you?”
“I'm at a diner in Brooklyn, watching Steve and Clint attempts to eat burgers the size of a plate. We all live at HQ, but really don't feel like going back there quite yet…Clint is trying to explain to Steve why it would be unwise to ‘camp’ in Central Park.”
No. That would not be a good idea. “Come to Stark Tower. All of you. There's plenty of room,” Pepper said in her best ‘I know what's best for you, don't argue with me’ voice.
She expected on argument anyway, but Natasha only paused for a moment before replying, “We’ll be there shortly.”
The line went dead. Natasha wasn’t one to waste time, which Pepper appreciated.
Returning to Tony side, she looked down at the modifications he'd made to the repair plans, noting that he'd allocated a floor for each of his teammates. They wouldn't be ready for a while, what with the gaping holes and other battle damage, but it was the thought that counted.
Forty-five minutes later, Natasha stepped out of the elevator with two men, each of them with a duffle bag thrown over a shoulder. Both were attractive and, though she’d never met either of them before, from the footage she’d seen on the news, Pepper knew the taller, blonder one was Captain America.
All three of them looked exhausted and mildly…off (though considering what Pepper knew about Natasha’s unflappability, there was a chance she, or all three of them, were PTSD cases just waiting to happen and hiding it), so Pepper smiled gently.
“Good to see you again, Natasha,” she greeted the other woman, crossing the room quickly. At the sound of her voice, Tony glanced up from his work station and Bruce waved vaguely from the couch.
“Likewise,” Natasha said as Pepper took in the dark smudges under her eyes and the various cuts and bruised visible on the agent’s face. There were a few stitches at her hairline, but her features were schooled into her usual, placid expression. “Pepper Potts, meet Clint Barton and Captain Steve Rogers.”
Barton, like Natasha and Tony, looked more than a little battered, though when he shook her hand, his grip was strong, hand callused and dry.
“Ma’am,” Rogers said, taking her hand gently. She was surprised at just how soft his palm and fingers were, but even though he handled her delicately, she could feel the strength in his grip. Unlike the others, he bore no signs of the recent battle, save for the exhaustion on his face. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Ushering them in, Pepper said, “Call me Pepper, Captain. We’re glad to have you.”
He pinked a bit. “Just call me Steve, please.”
Taking charge, Pepper decided to encourage them to relax. Obliquely, she encouraged them to change into lounge wear and directly ordered Tony to do the same. While they were out of the room, she called down to the kitchen, wondering if any of the staff had remained during (or returned after) the attack.
Fortunately, had stuck it out and (though the woman sounded shaken), she promised to bring up and assortment of comfort foods. As she hung up, Pepper made a mental note to give the girl a raise and also to ask S.H.I.E.L.D. HR where they found the folks who manned their cafeteria. She was willing to bet they wouldn’t have bugged out…then again, the barista at S.H.I.E.L.D. probably knew 47 ways to kill a man with a coffee stirrer, so maybe it wasn’t a fair comparison.
Like all of Tony’s staff, the chef (a pretty, plump brunette named Ryan) was excellent at her job and quickly produced several platters full of delicious looking food. A large dish of Lobster Macaroni & Cheese, a dozen Kobe beef burgers, sweet potato fries, grilled cheese, fried chicken, cream puffs and éclairs. A pot of fragrant chamomile tea sat beside ewers of lemonade and milk, a good touch, as everyone knew Tony kept very little in the fridge on this level.
Ryan fled back to the kitchen moments before the others staggered back into the room, each clad in some incarnation of gym clothes. The smell of food seemed to penetrate the haze of exhaustion and they descended on the spread like starving locusts. Clint almost lost a finger when he tried to snag some of the macaroni from Natasha and Steve seemed delighted by the éclairs.
By the time most of the food had disappeared, the exhaustion hit again, which was how Pepper found herself surrounded by a group of drowsy superheroes.
Tony sat beside Pepper, in his favorite ratty, MIT sweats (which she kept throwing out and he kept finding) and AC/DC t-shirt. He’d sunk back into the cushions and was almost still (a truly rare occurrence), save for his fingers, tapping away on his thigh as though it were a touch pad.
On his other side, Steve was still nibbling on an éclair. Considering the sweet tooth he seemed to have, Pepper wondered if whatever serum had turned him into a super soldier also prevented him from gaining weight. The white t-shirt he wore (which seemed to be a few sizes too small) made it clear that he had approximately 0% body fat.
Bruce was perched on one of the arm chairs, legs folded as if meditating. His eyes were half closed, breathing slow and Pepper wondered if he was going to nod off right there. Dummy was clearly thinking the same thing (yes, after years of exposure to Tony, she had accepted that some of his robots and AI’s thought) and trundled over to pluck the tea cup from the scientist’s slack fingers.
Natasha and Clint were sharing the love seat, looking like matching assassin bookends in their black tank tops and yoga pants. Neither of them had moved in several minutes and Pepper was beginning to think they’d fallen asleep with their eyes open.
It was a little scary.
Just as Tony had begun to slump against her, Pepper felt her phone buzz. Thankfully, she’d set it to silent and no one stirred from their stupor.
Covertly, she glanced at the screen and, not recognizing the number, hit ignore.
Whoever it was, she could deal with it in the morning.
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Mornings after are never fun.
Upon waking, Tony ran over his usual post-unconsciousness checklist. Location, bedroom, Stark Tower, New York. Last remembered location, living room, same. Hangover headache, no. Clothes, present. Company, no…wait, where was Pepper? Or any of the others?
He hated waking up alone.
“JARVIS, where’s Pepper? And Bruce, Cap, et al?”
None too subtly indicating he thought Tony should get up, JARVIS opened the blackout shades, allowing the sun to stream in, before replying, “Ms. Potts, Captain Rogers & Agent Romanov are in the sitting room, speaking with two guests. Dr. Banner is in one of the labs two floors below this level and Agent Barton appears to be climbing the side of the tower.”
“Fabulous,” Tony grumbled, heaving himself up and out of bed. Glancing down at himself, he deemed his T-shirt acceptable, but switched sweats for a battered pair of jeans.
Wandering out into the main part of the apartment, Tony lingered for a moment in the door, observing the small cluster of people gathered on the couches. Pepper and Natasha were cradling cups of coffee while Steve was working his way through an impressive pile of eggs and…yeah, that was the fried chicken left over from last night. Two other young women, both vaguely familiar, perched across from Pepper with mugs of their own, the smaller of the two gesturing unhappily as she spoke.
Without saying anything, Tony made a beeline for the coffee maker behind the bar. Conversation paused and Steve offered a polite, “Good Morning, Tony.”
Tony despaired. He was upright, mobile and dressed. He could not be expected to make conversation before his first dose of caffeine. Rallying, he managed a grunt acknowledgment before pouring himself a large cup of coffee to huddle over.
“Dude, you look like a long stretch of bad road,” the younger stranger commented. “Seriously, your hair is like…left.”
Not pausing his rapid coffee intake, Tony reached a hand up to find that his hair had in fact taken a left turn at some point and, thanks to product, was stubbornly holding that position. Huh.
He didn’t like being mocked by strangers is own building before his defenses warm full alert. “Pepper?” he asked, knowing she’d be able to interpret the question in his tone.
“Tony, this is Dr. Jane Foster, Thor’s friend, and her assistant, Darcy Lewis,” Pepper made the introductions and explained, “They saw footage of the battle on CNN and someone at S.H.I.E.L.D. directed them to you to answer their questions.”
“Me?” Tony asked incredulously. “Fury sent you to me? Does he hate you or did he sustain a head injury we don't know about…Oh! Mind control, it's not an impossibility!”
Steve looked mildly troubled by his brief diatribe and the Natasha was typically stonefaced. Jane was focused on the Thor issue, but at least Darcy seemed amused. With a roll of her eyes, Pepper reached out and grabbed his arm, forcing him to a seat on the couch.
“Eat something,” she ordered, handing him a distinctively shaped pastry. “The Doughnut Plant sent over an assortment of your favorites.”
Mmmmm, crème brulee… Tony took a bite and washed it down with a gulp of near scalding coffee. If he had to be awake before 10 AM, this was the only way to do it.
“Actually, I’ve never spoken with Director Fury,” Jane began, but was interrupted by Darcy.
“I'm starting to doubt his existence,” the younger woman said quickly. “You can never actually reach them, but he's the story used to scare baby S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into toeing the party line, all the while Coulson’s the man behind the curtain.”
Jane continued on as though Darcy had spoken. “I only get Phil’s voicemail. Finally, some stressed sounding nurse answered and directed us to you, said everyone else was involved in damage control or under medical supervision. Which reminds me, we should bring Phil a plant or something.”
“I think a Venus fly trap would appeal to him,” Darcy agreed, then blinked at Steve who was trying to be subtle about choking on a mouthful of chicken. “You okay?”
Natasha busied herself pounding Steve on the back and Tony stuffed half his donut into his mouth in order to avoid speaking. Pepper heaved a sigh and lay a hand on Tony's knee, sitting forward to break the bad news. “Has no one told you? Phil…he was killed in action. I'm sure you can send an arrangement to the funeral home or…I’m not…I should find out what arrangements are being made….”
Eyes popping wide, Jane paled and Darcy yelped, “What happened? This morning they told us we'd be able to visit as soon as they moved him out of the ICU!”
The hair on the back of Tony's neck prickled and a half formed idea clawed its way into his still waking mind. Pepper blinked in confusion and Steve's face crumpled into expression of mixed surprise, confusion and a dreadful, dawning realization.
“Ebanatyi pidaraz,” Natasha snapped, going rigid and tapping at her ear. “Clint. Get here. Now.”
It spoke to the strangeness that had encroached upon their lives that Tony didn't even think it odd that she and Clint were randomly wearing ear bud communicators.
“What…” Pepper began, then stopped when a loud, dull thump echoed through the room.
As one, the group turned toward the windows to see Clint dangling from a rope, using a tool to cut through the glass. Quickly, he popped out a circle large enough to slither through and levered himself inside, asking, “What happened?”
Though he was clearly speaking to Natasha, Tony couldn't help but comment. “Yes, thank you. Another whole. Just what the tower needs. Are you going to do that often? If so, I can look into installing a doggie door or something similar.”
“Tony.” Steve said his name quietly but intently and Tony subsided for the moment.
Addressing Clint, Natasha said, “It seems Phil may be alive.”
“What?” the archer asked, clearly taken aback. “But Fury said….Oh.”
“That manipulative bastard,” Tony grumbled, then turned to Pepper. “I think we should offer Bruce some Xanax before we tell him we got played.”
Clint snorted. “Unless you keep some around that are the size of basketballs, I doubt that will help.”
Wiping his hands, Steve stood and said, “I'll go brief Bruce on the situation. Be ready to leave in 10.”
There were nods from Clint and Natasha, who fled, possibly to change, possibly to further arm themselves. Tony didn't see the need to do either and simply not angrily on another doughnut is Pepper tapped a series of notes into her tablet.
Exchanging a glance with Darcy, Jane offered, “I feel like we missed something.”
Tony snorted. “We all did…but don't worry, were gonna deal with it.”
Jane and Darcy arrive.
From the moment Jane woke her, rambling excitedly about an emergency consulting gig at some fancy observatory in Norway, Darcy had been suspicious. She knew Norway was like…eight time zones away, but since they were the ones doing the calling, you'd think they would've waited until a reasonable hour in New Mexico.
Really, how many astrophysics emergencies required 3 AM calls and chartered, private jets? Call her conspiracy nut, but she thought the whole thing reeked of eau de S.H.I.E.L.D..
She was proven right when news of an alien army invading New York broke and every news outlet in the world lost their minds. The invasion repelled by a team of…well, Darcy wasn't sure who they were, but she recognized Iron Man, a dude in a Captain America costume, the Hulk and Thor.
Soon after the fight ended, the news started calling them The Avengers.
Needless to say, Jane was pissed at the whole situation and Darcy found herself on her second transatlantic flight in a matter of days as they tried to get to New York. By the time they landed in Newark (LaGuardia was barely functioning), Darcy was seriously jetlagged and cranky while Jane was close to totally freaking out. S.H.I.E.L.D had been giving them the runaround and there had been a close call with the Air Marshal (apparently Jane's behavior was scaring the other passengers), so discovering that Coulson had been wounded in action only riled her further.
A beleaguered underling finally gave them a number where they could reach Tony Stark (Iron Man!) who had fought beside Thor. When Jane called, a woman answered and, after brief conversation, told them to come to Stark Tower.
A truly staggering number of media types seemed to have formed a phalanx around the base of the tower, just waiting to shove cameras and microphones at the billionaire should he choose to emerge. Elbowing their way through the crowd, they received more than a few nasty looks and comments.
When they reached the front of the mob, a door opened and a dark-haired man with a broad, pleasant face stepped out and strode briskly toward them. The reporters lost their collective shit upon seeing him, screaming, shoving and generally making Darcy want to use her tazer.
The man, who was wearing a suit out of Reservoir Dogs, glared at the reporters and nodded to Jane and Darcy herself. “Ms. Potts asked me to show you in,” he offered, waving them forward.
Some of the more aggressive vultures took that as permission to follow, but the man cut them off before they’d gotten more than a few feet. “No!” he barked, glowering and waving a finger. “You know the drill. Stay on public property or I swear, I will find the biggest hose available and go crowd control on all your asses. You know I’ll do it!”
Darcy was surprised to see the crowd creep back out onto the sidewalk, apparently heeding his threat. Once the scene was secure, he turned back to herd them into the lobby, past a lone doorman. “Sorry about the mob,” he said, placing his hand on the digital scanner beside the elevator. “Harold Hogan, chauffeur/bodyguard. You can call me Happy.”
They stepped onto the elevator, which shuddered then began a rapid ascent. Some of the lights on the ceiling panel flickered and went out and Darcy asked, “Uh, is this safe? Cuz I really don't feel like plummeting to my death today.”
Happy gave her nod. “Sure. This left didn't suffer any structural damage.”
Not to be deterred from her single-minded search, Jane asked, “We were told Mr. Stark could tell me where Thor is. Do you know?”
He shook his head. “Sorry. Haven't seen him.”
Several tense seconds later, the elevator shook to a stop and let out a sickly sounding DING before the doors rolled open…halfway open.
Giving the door shake, Happy said, “Hey JARVIS, I thought you said this one was running okay.”
Unsure who he was speaking to, Darcy jumped when a cultured British voice seemed to emerge from the walls. “My apologies, Mr. Hogan. The repairs in progress have caused a few minor glitches to cascade into other functional systems. I assure you, the lift is perfectly safe.”
“We know you're doing your best JARVIS,” a voice from beyond the elevator said and, when the doors heaved the rest of the way open, a tall, smiling redhead nodded to Hogan. “Thank you Happy.”
He nodded and pointed down. “I'm gonna go keep an eye on the situation downstairs.”
She chuckled and, as soon as Jane and Darcy exited the elevator, he was gone. “Dr. Foster, I’m Virginia Potts. We spoke on the phone.”
“Jane,” Jane replied, taking the offered hand. “And this is Darcy Lewis, my assistant.”
“Hello,” Ms. Potts shook her hand as well and, as she led them further into the huge apartment, continued, “Please, call me Pepper. Just about everyone does. Natasha, Steve, this is Jane and this is Darcy.”
They entered a sitting room to find two people perched on couches. The woman, another stunning redhead (though this one looked like she’d recently gone head to head with Godzilla), turned to regard them with sharp eyes and a bland expression while the man scrambled to his feet.
Well, hello gorgeous.
Tall, blonde and built was clearly the dude who'd been running around in the Captain America costume and, from what Darcy could recall from her class on propaganda, they done a good job in picking someone who looked the part. “Good morning, ladies,” he said politely. “Nice to meet you both.”
Even the clothes he was wearing, which reminded her unfortunately of her great-grandfather Earl, did not detract from how smoking hot the man was and that was something of a miracle. “The pleasures mutual,” Darcy assured him and allowed herself to be seated on the sofa with Jane.
Before Jane could begin her Thor related interrogation, Pepper took charge of the room. “Yesterday, after the fighting concluded, Thor took Loki back to Asgard. Tony did indicate that Thor now thinks Hemidall will be able to repair the Bifrost in short order, thanks to a recovered piece of tech.”
“He left?” Jane asked sadly. “Without even seeing me?”
Whenever Jane got that look on her face, Darcy wanted to kick whoever it caused it. Seriously, upsetting Jane was like kicking a tiny bunny. Hot Steve seemed to be having a similar reaction, as he earnestly assured her, “He surely wanted to Miss, but from the moment he arrived, we really didn't get much down time.”
Natasha inclined her head in agreement and Jane contemplated that thought, leaving Darcy to fill the silence. “So, there's like 1 billion camera phone videos gone viral showing the battle. How'd you wind up is Captain America 2.0? Not that you don't look the part, but wow, big shoes to fill.”
Steve seemed to take a moment to consider her words, a slightly befuddled look crossing his face. “I…what?...Can I….”
“They were cleared and vetted after New Mexico,” Natasha offered, sitting back and observing everyone with bright eyes.
With a nod of thanks to her, Steve continued, “I’m Steve Rogers. Captain America. A couple months back, a team pulled me out of the ice in the Arctic.”
Darcy blinked. “Are you fucking with me?”
He blushed, looking startled an embarrassed. “No, Miss, I’m not.”
“He's THE Captain America,” Natasha confirmed in an even tone.
Somehow, Darcy got the impression that the redhead was enjoying their sudden astonished silence, though her expression never wavered.
Any further revelations or questions (oh, she had so many questions) were forestalled by Tony (oh, hello sexy walking wounded) Stark’s arrival, a kerfluffle over Coulson’s present status and the arrival of yet another gorgeous (though bruised) guy, via skyscraper window.
When they poured out of the building (joined by Dr. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk aka adorable, hot, rumpled guy), they found that Happy (probably on Stark’s orders) had driven a huge ass car right up to the door of the building as to avoid the paparazzi. Darcy couldn't resist giving them a cheeky wave through the window.
Instead of heading toward Midtown (where Darcy assumed all the government type buildings lived), Stark’s driver took them to the waterfront. “What, does S.H.I.E.L.D. have some kind of secret base hidden under an abandoned tuna cannery?”
“Nah,” Clint (hot window guy) said, then tossed a stiff nod towards the water. “Look.”
A freaking enormous…aircraft carrier thing was floating lazily on the Hudson, close enough to shore that she could see people running around on the deck. An entire dock had been blocked off, but several official looking vans were passing a checkpoint, so they got in line.
Of course, unlike the vans, they earned glares, in order to get lost and lots of guns pointed menacingly at them…at least until Natasha poked her head out the window.
Then they were waved through.
It was reassuring to know that even large, heavily armed government thugs found Natasha terrifying. Between her and Tony's imperious blustering, they found their way to a few boats, which were being used to ferry personnel back and forth from the big ship. That was when Pepper and Steve took over, and impressive double-team of icy professionalism and earnest innocence that practically demanded everyone listen to them and obey.
The poli-sci major in Darcy thought they'd be an unbeatable team if they ever chose to run for government office.
Aboard the boat heading out to the ship, a cluster of tech types were giving them all nervous side glances, though the grizzled looking older man piloting simply nodded to each of them and muttered, through teeth clenched around the cigar, “Alien invasion. That's a whole new kind of fucked up, huh?”
In the light of day, the bruises on Tony, Natasha and Clint looked so much angrier and Steve and Bruce just seemed tired… emotionally, if not physically. Idly, Darcy wondered how many of them were suffering from repressed PTSD and, if they were, what could be done?
She had a feeling the world as everyone knew it had changed irrevocably.
They could only hope it was for the better.