Tony had to admit that the delivery method was impressive. He'd call it ingenious, but he preferred to keep that term relegated to his own creations and he was in no way enough of an asshole to ever try this.
The team had gotten a call that a rather large package had been delivered to the lobby of the Tower. It had been addressed simply to "The Avengers" and sensors could not get a lock on just what it held inside. The building was evacuated, agents dispatched to collect the courier, and the team assembled to figure out what fresh hell they had been gifted with this time.
As no one was dumb enough to assume it was fan mail, everyone was fully geared up by the time they approached, with Tony himself wearing the suit. Barton, of course, mocked him for overkill but was wise enough to do so from the second floor balcony that overlooked the lobby, bow at the ready, while Tony lowered his mask and approached the rather unassuming object.
The box itself appeared to be made of some sort of metal alloy and was roughly one meter cubed. Remote scans and camera angles showed no seams or anything really of note along its smooth expanse. Of course, this changed the moment Tony reached one gauntlet-covered hand towards that smooth surface, which then split at the edges to reveal a brilliant blue light shining from within. When a computerized voice intoned, "Process initiated," he figured they were pretty much screwed.
His shouted, "Get down!" reverberated against the glass and steel surroundings, and was echoed by at least three of his teammates. He spared a brief thought for what the hell Bruce was even doing down there without the aid of his alter-ego before the sides of the box fell open and the thing released a truly impressive payload.
The shrapnel was conical in shape, which he thought strange until he realized the apex was pointed and tore through anything in its wake save for the armor he wore. He knew his friends were not quite as lucky and that, even though he designed the Kevlar-like materials of their uniforms himself, they were far more vulnerable to the attack.
He watched as Barton's exposed arms took a direct hit, the tiny cone changing from blue to clear as it released a payload all of its own. He had a second to register the implications of such a chemical warfare before he watched Natasha miss avoiding the fifth one aimed at her as she attempted to pull Clint to safety behind the reinforced glass wall and then the sixth and seventh hit their mark while she faltered. Bruce writhed on the floor and Tony had no idea if he was attempting to transform or not. He kind of wished that he would as, if the Hulk could withstand a missile, he should be able to withstand whatever the hell they were being hit with now.
Banner was not the only one writhing though. Clint had collapsed in a sort of slow motion despite Natasha's grip, half visible now from where Tony still stood frozen in place, only to be thrown into a sort of seizure right beside his usual partner in crime. Worse than watching Natasha's red hair thrash about though was something that he was pretty sure would haunt his memories for lifetimes to come: she screamed. Not in warning. Not in surprise. She screamed in pain. He had seen her take a gunshot to the abdomen and turn around and garrote a guy with barely a pause for breath. This? This was whole new levels of not good.
Tony's gauntlets barely put a dent in the thing, but Thor's hammer smashed it nice and decent like. At least six of the cones had embedded themselves in various parts of his supposedly impenetrable armor in the process, however, which was in no way of the awesome. Thor picked one free from the back of his hand of all places and tossed it away as though it were no more than some insignificant speck which it honestly may have been to him. He then took precisely two steps to the side and fell face first into the marble tiles, far more than a single capsule embedded elsewhere.
Tony blew a sigh of relief to see at least Steve slowly raise himself back up from where he had ducked behind his shield across the room. Rogers started to nod to him as if to say he was all right, but then paused as he looked down at the small clear container embedded in his calf. Clint had been a speed demon in comparison to how Steve collapsed first to his knees, then to his hands, and then to the ground itself, broken vials like a homing beacon for his legs and arms and pretty much all of him, most of which was thankfully covered by his suit. He'd need full decontamination procedures, but it could have been much, much worse.
"JARVIS?" Tony asked, needing a familiar voice in all of this mess.
"SHIELD containment team is in route," his AI confirmed. Tony was about to breathe a sigh of relief again, until the computerized voice continued, "I suggest you do not move until they arrive. One of the projectiles is lodged in a precarious placement atop your armor and may well break through the joint without assistance in its removal."
Which is how Tony Stark had to stand perfectly still, hands slightly raised, armor both useless and protective, and watch his friends convulse around him.
The containment team arrived quickly enough, even though it felt like forever to the man trapped inside the little metal suit. It took them far longer to don the hazmat gear and pick their way through the wreckage. It was the closest Tony had ever come to seeing Coulson lose his cool when the agent stepped forward, looked up to where his former charges still writhed, and swallow heavily.
"Stark, what the hell happened?" Coulson demanded through the clear filtration mask he wore.
And so Tony told him about the cluster-fuck of a cluster-bomb and how no one should touch the little cones with anything less than full armor-level gear and how he needed someone to get the one the fuck off of him so he could try to figure out what they were and what they were doing to his team.
Coulson obliged, and a pair of what might have been forceps were used to carefully remove the shrapnel from his exposed joint, the little container of death or whatever it was shattering a safe hairbreadth away from him and thankfully not sloshing onto the person trying to save him.
"I need at least one of them whole, if possible," Tony told him, and Coulson nodded in understanding.
He was hesitant to raise his mask, watching everyone else galavant around with their clunky breathing apparatuses, but he wanted to breathe something other than recycled air, wanted to see what was happening to his friends with his own eyes. As if reading his mind, which Tony would honestly not be surprised if he could at this point, like some secret SHIELD telepathy project actually gone right, Coulson shook his head. "Stay suited up until we can verify there is nothing airborne," he ordered.
Tony sighed and had JARVIS run the scans and report the data directly to the various equipment brought in just for that very reason. In the interim, he used the suit to analyze what remained of the delivery system itself, the need for movement loosely disguising his need to edge closer to the three teammates still on his level.
Thor was immediately behind him and three agents were currently attempting to turn the large man over, and barely succeeding. Others rushed about with medical instruments designed to work on humans as though the things would have any meaningful say regarding an alien from another planet. Tony could see the rise and fall of that massive chest though, and the way one leg kicked out fitfully and knocked an unfortunate agent on her ass, and took those as signs that things could be much, much worse.
Steve was closer than Bruce and currently draped in a blanket, oxygen mask fit over his face. Something seemed off though, and not just the junior agent whose hand drifted towards the fallen shield only to quickly rethink his actions when he saw Tony approach. "Sir, Captain Rogers' body mass appears to have lessened by twenty-five percent," JARVIS informed him. This was followed by, "Recalculating. Thirty-four percent. The change appears ongoing and has not yet reached completion."
Tony both pissed off and scared the shit out of the agents assigned to his usual team leader when he tore the blanket free to see the damage for himself. If something was eating away at Steve, melting both skin and bone, he needed to know, needed to see, needed to find the quickest way possible to stop it. The suit had fire suppression systems and coolant to rival a nuclear reactor. There was a chance that he could put a stop to whatever chemical reaction was occurring, or at least stall it long enough to find something that could.
What he found was not what he had been expecting. There was no loss of limbs, no decrepit disgusting tissue or calcified exposed bone. Steve was simply... smaller. Younger. And, unfortunately for the agents around him, falling out of the age of consent faster by the minute.
"Cap?" he asked, tentatively. Then, correcting himself as there was no chance the figure before him could be considered Captain America, or Captain of anything other than Crunch, he asked, "Steve?"
Blue eyes fluttered open, and then drifted closed again. His breathing was erratic and it still looked like he had a live electrical wire attached to his nervous system but, other than that, he seemed alive if not whole.
Tony's mind ran a mile a minute, trying to grasp the ridiculousness of it all. Instead, he kept coming back to the fact that this was only one cone of the weapon in direct delivery, against a super soldier serum, against something designed to fight any injury or weakness. His heart lodged somewhere roughly around his throat when he contemplated the ramifications for the others of human origin. Unless Rogers had been hit where neither man had seen before his collapse, or the broken vials had somehow gifted more to his system, this was so not good.
The agents next to Bruce were smart enough to step back when he approached; scuttle perhaps being a better word for their actions. Beneath that blanket was a form even smaller than Steve's, and one that twitched far more violently. "Bruce?" he tried. He was met with wide brown eyes that tinged with green as they took in some seriously unusual surroundings.
Tony decided that JARVIS had done his scans and spit out his results and, if Coulson didn't like it then fuck him because they were talking about someone that looked to be a pre-teen about ready to Hulk out on them all. He flipped up his faceplate to try to show him that there was a human underneath, that he wasn't in some crazy sci-fi fantasy horror flick, but Bruce didn't seem to even register that he was there, focused instead on the near faceless beings in their hazmat suits. "Father?" asked far too small of voice.
"Not quite," Tony told him, trying to force him to look away from the scary weirdness and focus on the cool weirdness instead.
"Where-?" Bruce asked, and the small voice had an odd sort of growl at the end and that was it, a transformation was beginning and it answered about as many questions as it asked and Tony knew from past experiences that they had about thirty seconds, maybe less to get him to calm down or they were screwed.
An agent to his side was prepping a syringe which was just stupid because who in their right mind would shove a needle at a kid about to go berserk? Of course Bruce noticed it and of course the hyperventilating increased and the waxy pallor of his face began to take on a new hue. Tony shoved the agent to the side with maybe just a little too much force considering he was still wearing the suit, and lowered his hand not to cup Bruce's face because a repulsor was probably far from comforting, but to at least block his view as he swore, "No one is going to hurt you. You're safe here."
Bruce nodded shakily but, more importantly, turned back to his far too pale color, right before his eyes rolled up to the back of his head and he passed out on his own.
Tony turned to the two agents that still hovered and addressed the one that still rubbed at a no doubt sore shoulder. "No needles, not for a scared kid. Get him to the conservatory, JARVIS will give you access and lock it down so he won't do as much damage if he does go green," he ordered. Looking upwards via habit more than anything else, he checked with his AI and asked, "Got that?"
"Indeed," JARVIS replied, and the nearest elevator swung open.
The conservatory was the quiet place set aside for when things got too much for a certain irradiated scientist, and/or for when the Hulk was coming down and about to crash. It was soft, it was calming, and it was secure. It also wasn't a damned see-through cell that dropped from thousands of feet mid-air and thus had a bit of added charm that SHIELD's facilities tended to lack.
And it was stupid and would likely damage the tile but, really, the entire lobby was toast anyway and Tony needed to know that the rest of his team was alive and accounted for, so he launched himself upwards to land neatly on the balcony of the second floor, where several more agents milled around and made themselves generally useless.
Or possibly not.
Coulson was bent over an impossibly small redheaded form, crouched low and speaking something decidedly not English. "Russian," JARVIS supplied for him and, yeah, that made a level of sense even though he had never heard Coulson utter a word of it in his life. He may have said part of that aloud as the agent in question simply raised a barely visible eyebrow disapprovingly and chided, "She has been my responsibility far longer than you have been hers."
That was apparently a dismissal as much as it was an explanation and Coulson turned back to focus on his charge and managed to pointedly block Tony's immediate assessment of her condition. If he was talking, then it was safe to assume she was alive. Even from his distance, Tony could see her smaller stature and, based on his experience with his other teammates so far, he felt it was safe to assume they now had a miniaturized Russian assassin on their hands. The cognitive status of said assassin was still up in the air, but the same could be said of the others at this point, so Tony chose to focus on the fact that she, like the others, was still living and breathing and go forward from there.
Coulson would let him know if there was anything else, well, that he needed to know about the matter and, if not, he would hack the feed later and dig it up for himself. Instead, he focused on his final teammate, and the first to fall.
Barton was, well, not scrawny, but really not the size he should be, regardless of the age he appeared to be. His uniform dwarfed him and his hair stuck up at odd angles from from a bleeding head and he still thrashed lightly even though he refused to let go of the single arrow he still held tightly in his grasp.
"Barton?" Tony asked, more out of curiosity for the response than anything else.
"Who the hell are you?" an amusingly high pitched voice replied. Definitely pre-teen. Definitely pre-pubescent. Definitely still shrinking before his very eyes. The kid's pain tolerance was rather remarkable; the attitude not so much.
"I'm your fairy fricken godmother," Tony replied with a grim grin. "Stop being an ass and let the docs check you over."
He swore he heard a muttered, "Bibbity bobbity, screw you," in return, but the kid stilled as much as he likely could and the medics finally got to work on the large wound to his bicep and several other smaller lacerations. He never did let go of the damn arrow, and Tony could not tell if was a comfort thing or the kid simply liked being armed against the unknown. Either way, he was going to let him be for now as said arrow was not actively digging into anything or anyone vital, so he was going to count it as a win.
Satisfied that every teammate was present, breathing, and accounted for, he was about to turn his attention back to the device and all the wonderful little presents it had gifted them with. That was, of course, when they got a frantic call from the lower level of, "Sir, we have a problem!"
Tony got there before Coulson but, to be fair, the senior agent didn't really want to leave two of his most valuable long-term assets in the hands of imbeciles and settled for leaning over the damaged balcony to assess the situation from afar. The situation in question, such as it was, was Thor.
The massive man had shrunk down to the size of a roughly twelve or thirteen year old human, hair still long and shaggy but armor shrinking to fit his much more slight form. Tony totally had to get some of that as the possibilities for such technology were as enormous as Thor once was. A glance at Steve showed he had evened out at about the same age, though Banner, Barton, and Romanov had already been younger when he had last seen them.
Thor stood on shaky and rather knobby knees and glared imperiously at those around him. He settled on Tony, or rather on the Iron Man suit, likely narrowing in on the shiny as regalia in its own right. "Do you speak for these mortals?" the child demanded.
Tony nodded. It was that or let Johnson speak and that man was just an idiot.
Thor seemed to instantly ignore all others and focus his attention solely on the armored man before him. "For what purpose have you brought me here? Where are my kin? The might of the Aesir shall crush you for your impudence."
Tony took a moment to remind himself that Thor was the prince of not just a kingdom, but an entire planet full of people, and had likely been raised with the appropriately inflated ego to go along with it. He had dealt with Emirs and Queens, Congressmen and CEOs - this was something he could actually handle.
"Your highness," he said with the slightest of bows, making certain he got off on the right foot and trying his damnedest to not sound condescending. Thor's lips twitched, but otherwise his expression did not change. "The circumstances of your arrival are still being investigated, but I assure you that you have not been taken against your will, nor does anyone mean you harm. Well, anyone gathered here," he amended as he realized there were a lot of bad guys on this planet that would love to take out a certain group of super heroes should they discover their current states of being.
Thor glowered some more, but seemed to take him at his word. "Is this the realm of Midgard?" he inquired.
"It is," Tony confirmed.
"Then where is my father, the mighty Odin and Allfather of the Aesir?" When Tony did not immediately have an answer for that, Thor looked torn between apprehension at the absence of what would have been his usual protector, and mischief at just what he could get up to in his absence. "Heimdal, return me from this place," he ordered the sky above him. As expected, not a whole lot happened.
"Yeah, they're still working on that Bifrost thing," Tony admitted. It was usable, within reason. It took a lot of energy and was a bit tetchy, but getting better with each attempt. It was usually better incoming from Asgard than leaving from Earth, likely due to them having the energy source right there and Earth, well, not. This meant it would take a hell of a lot to get Thor back to his own people but, considering the circumstances, it was not outside the realm of the possible.
"You have damaged the Bifrost?" Thor scoffed, with only a hint of underlying fear, probably at the power involved to do so.
Tony shook his head. "Nope, apparently you did yourself during a battle with Lo-, er, an epic foe," he told him, quickly forgoing that name of said foe as, for Little Thor, much like Big Thor, Loki was still his brother and something probably not to be brought up as a bad thing.
Thor looked crushed. "I- How did I complete such a task?"
"Mjolnir," Tony answered for him, and gestured to the hammer in question that still lay at the boy's feet. That should be interesting to move, come time to do so. Maybe he could convince the general public it was an art installation in honor of their ally from another world?
Thor's eyes grew wide. "I was worthy to carry the mighty Mjolnir?" he asked in barely a whisper. It turned to definite sorrow though when he came to a realization of, "I took such a weapon from my father's realm and damaged the Bifrost itself. It is no wonder that I have been exiled for punishment."
Tony resisted the urge to rub his forehead. It would do him no good, be seen as a sign of weakness, and would hurt what with the armored gauntlets still on. He settled for saying, "To the best of my knowledge, you have not been exiled. You are here as an honored guest. As for punishment, the act itself occurred in the past and your father was immediately aware of it. I'm kinda doubting that he changed his mind and decided to kick you out now."
"You cannot know the mind of the Allfather," Thor frowned. It was hard to tell if he believed Tony or not, but it wasn't hard to tell that the same guy Tony knew and trusted was within him. He stood, still not a hundred percent solid, but with his arms crossed before him and one hand on his hairless chin. He looked so serious, and more than a little vulnerable, regalia or no, that Tony either wanted an immediate fix to their little problem, or to secret him away with the others before the bad guys of the world discovered there was so much fresh meat to be had.
"No, I can't," Tony eventually agreed. He tried to think of something to make the kid trust him, but kept coming up short. The only thing he could think of, for now, was telling the truth, or a truncated version of it. "I can tell you only what I myself know, and that's that you have been here a while, whether you realize it or not. That we just had some bad sh-, er, stuff, go down that might be playing with that memory of yours. I can tell you that I have trusted you with my life and hope you trust me with yours. I can also tell you that, as of right now, we're still working through what happened and have no idea how to fix it, but we're going to try out best to figure it out anyway."
Before he could say much more, there was a blinding burst of light just outside the main entrance. The SHIELD agents all reached for weapons, but it was pretty obvious what the source of the whole matter was when a buxom brunette with some kicking and familiar looking armor strode in like she owned the place, huge-ass spear/sword-thing in hand.
There was more than a slight chance that the walkway outside now bore an imprint of the intricate knotwork always left behind by passage through the Bifrost, a chance that greatly increased when the woman introduced herself as, "I am the Lady Sif of Asgard."
Thor spun around so quickly it was a wonder than he didn't fall over. There was definitely recognition in his eyes, but his doubt shone through when he protested, "Sif is but my own age. Who are you and why do you take her name?"
She knelt down on one knee, weapon still in hand and still at the ready. "I speak the truth, Son of Odin, even as you do as well. We are age-mates, though we do not appear so at this time," she told him. She offered him something small that Tony could not quite make out from his angle, and the boy palmed it quickly. "I have been sent here by the Allfather for your protection. He cannot leave our realm at this time, but wishes for you to know he is aware of your predicament and is seeking both resolution and retribution."
Maybe it was the cynical side of Tony, but he took that to mean that the big guy was not about to risk himself on a damaged transport, nor risk getting stuck with the petty Midgardians when he could send someone a bit more expendable in his stead. Thor's immediate acceptance and hollow, "My father is a busy and powerful ruler, I understand," just cemented that fact in his mind. The kid played with whatever she had given him, fingers quick and agile over the token that had to be some sign from dear old dad, proof of her word or some such thing.
"Does the big guy/Allfather/whatever have any idea what caused this or how to change it back?" Tony asked hopefully. He figured it couldn't hurt to ask and, quite frankly, if there was a fix at the ready he was more than willing to take it, sooner rather than later at that.
Sif shook her head and stood, long ponytail swinging in an almost mesmerizing way. "We are investigating, but have not discovered what we seek as of yet," she replied. That was fair, really. It had been barely an hour and even a civilization as advanced as the Asgard needed time to review the new and wacky disasters that seemed intent upon befalling them all.
Thor cut in, like the teenager he currently appeared to be, and said more than a bit petulantly, "This man claims to be an ally. He claims to have fought beside me though I have no memory of this."
While Tony tried to parse out a response, Sif, barely paused before she replied, "Your memories fail you and he speaks the truth. This man matches the description of the Man of Iron for which you have told me many tales of, and we stand within his abode."
This news he did not take as stoically as the news his father would not be making the trip. Maybe it was the stress, maybe he was pissed about dad and didn't have an outlet for that, or maybe it was a combo of those and more, but the angsty teenaged alien crossed his arms over his chest again and pouted, "If there were battles, there would be tales. Great songs should be sung about the Son of Odin and his victories."
Sif laughed, loud and hearty. "I shall sing to you those that I know, that I promise you."
Tony, however, took a different track as the disbelief was just way too high and he had seen some crazy things, not the least of which were giant space worms destroying the city. "Let me get this straight. He's fine with being shrunk, he's fine with daddy sending an armed au pair, but the fact he can't remember kicking ass is what worries him the most?" He shook his head. "Yeah, kid, Thor, buddy, whatever. I'm not going to Glee it out for you, but I can show you footage of just how much ass you have kicked and how since you came here - is that acceptable?"
Thor nodded slowly, still looking doubtful. "Show me these battles, Man of Iron, and I shall decided if we are the allies as you so speak."
"Queue 'em up, JARVIS," he ordered the air around him, and the wall just to the left of the alien prince lit up with image after image of the various ass kickings the team had participated in over the last year alone.
His AI, attune as ever, requested over the helmet frequency only, "Did you wish me to include the Battle of Manhattan?"
Tony thought on that for all about a second, and the implications of what was probably little Thor's still littler brother causing that much strife and destruction, and subtly shook his head. That would be opening up way too big of a can of space worms to handle just yet; maybe save that one until such time as there was less pouty temper tantrum and more understanding and trust to be had. Or, possibly not at all. Not at all worked fine too.
Sif stood at the boy's side, grin wide and open, as they watched the adult Thor toss people left and right and occasionally skyward. The kid seemed to recognize himself, at least somewhat and possibly because he was currently wearing the same armor, and marveled at the way Mjolnir was swung with ease. "Who are these others that fight at my side, and why are they not here now?" he asked, not yet looking away.
"Those would be your teammates, uh, fellow defenders of Midgard," Tony explained. He gestured to the med teams and miniaturized bodies that littered the place, and then to the tiny little capsules that were carefully being picked up by a few terrified agents. "They were hit by the same device you were. That stuff hit exposed skin and, bam, kid-ified."
Thor nodded as though that made sense. "And your armor has covered your skin and thus protected you. Use caution, Man of Iron, so that you too do not fall prey to this weapon."
And Tony did not laugh, but it was a near thing and aided by being surrounded by his shrunken team. "Doing my best," he promised, and that seemed acceptable to His Mini Imperiousness.
Thor sat down, right then and there in the middle of the lobby to watch, looking for all the world like he was watching Saturday morning cartoons and not blood, gore, and various electronic pieces scatter across the makeshift screen.
With him and his babysitter currently occupied, Tony breathed a near silent sigh of relief and turned to focus on myriad of others tasks at hand. Perhaps it was not silent enough though, as he heard Coulson's voice come across the comm and offer a, "Well handled, Stark."
"I try," he replied, and resumed his scans of the device.
"No, you are trying, at least most days, but we'll consider that close enough for now," came the response, and he could hear the smirk through the transmission. Behind him, barely audible but still making it through the comms, came what Tony remembered to be Baby Barton's voice in a near plaintive whine asking, "How come the blond kid gets to watch TV?"
Tony looked up to where the shrunken archer peered over the edge of the balcony, an agent trying to pull him back from where the metal was chipped and the glass not much more than shards. He took a moment to decidedly not envy Coulson as the man had to currently deal with both Clint and Natasha, speaking a variety of Russian, English, and Circus-ese to do so. Roberts was dealing with a child last thought to be in the midst of a planet-consuming war, and two others were trying to tuck a baby rage monster into a locked and padded room.
He took a moment to wonder where his life took a turn towards the absurd and then shrugged it off and returned to trying to minimize at least this latest round of craziness.