From atop Stark Tower, Loki looked out at the city in flames. With the Chitauri and their steeds still emerging swarmlike out of the Tesseract’s portal, the island’s defenses would be overwhelmed sooner rather than later. But those pesky Avengers never ceased attempting to undermine his plans, always standing back up after he though he’d knocked them down for good. Even the man who considered himself Loki’s brother, the god of thunder himself, could not see the futility in their so-called ‘heroics.’
He gazed down towards the street, hundreds of feet below, and smirked at the civilians fleeing in terror from the encroaching alien warriors. Loki knew that the Avengers naively thought they would be able to defend this pathetic city, and save the planet from utter and complete subjugation. He also knew, however, something that they didn’t. He had a trick up his sleeve- after all, he was the god of mischief.
His fall through the infinity of space and time had revealed secrets to him, had opened his mind. And on his journey he had learned the existence of the immense power he was about to harness. He’d be safe from its effect as the bearer of the source, but the Avengers would have no way out.
A wide, wicked grin spread across his pallid face, and he gripped his staff tighter as the orb at its tip began to pulse and grow.
Down on the ground, amidst the smoking rubble and wreckage, a team of six heroes had gathered to face down the Chitauri hordes. A super-soldier, a scientist, a demigod, an archer, an assassin, and Tony Stark.
Tony was about take the lead in re-engaging the offensive, and was seconds away from firing his thrusters and launching off the ground when he noticed something.
It had apparently also caught the eye of Steve Rogers. “What’s happening to Stark Tower?” he said, and pointed his red-gloved finger towards the building, above which the gateway was still pouring forth hundreds of Chitauri.
Tony directed his gaze towards the tower, and magnified his suit’s view until he could see what was going on.
A huge sphere of crackling light had enveloped the roof of the building, where Selvig was still maintaining the Tesseract and its gate. But Tony doubted that the bumbling, mesmerized physicist was the one behind this.
“What is that thing?” said Bruce, squinting up into the sun.
“It looks like... it’s growing!” said Natasha.
“What the hell does that horned bastard think he’s doing?” growled Tony. “I need that building! For living in!”
“Is Loki bringing something out of the portal?” Steve asked.
“No... no, this is something new.” Tony stared intently at the glowing orb. Natasha was right- it was growing. And at an alarming rate, too. Was Loki trying to pull a fast one on them, in the heat of battle? Was this some weapon that he’d been craftily saving for the climax of their fight? Tony wouldn’t put it past the ostentatious jerkwad.
The orb’s diameter was stretching across at least three city blocks now, and getting brighter as it grew. And it was growing fast.
“JARVIS, how long is that thing gonna take to reach us?”
“At the exponential rate it is expanding, you have approximately seven seconds, sir.”
Tony turned around to look at the rest of the team. All of them were here, ready to fight and defend and do whatever they could take down the bad guys. They were strong, and they were a team. But this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, no, something was very wrong. They weren’t supposed to be defeated easily and simply in a flash of bright light.
“What do we do?” Natasha asked. She was staring intently at the quickly decreasing distance between them and the sphere.
“Watch out!” shouted Tony, and then the light reached them, and everything went white.
Steve hadn’t realized that he had been crouching down. His ears were ringing, and there was a dry and sour taste in his mouth that reminded him uncomfortably of when he had woken up from his 70-year nap.
He stood, and opened his eyes. His vision swam before him. He hadn’t felt nausea since he was a sickly, skinny army recruit, but there was no mistaking the queasy sensation that was growing in his abdomen.
Something was different. Though the rational part of his mind protested, Steve somehow knew for sure that he wasn’t standing where he had been seconds ago.
He noticed that it had suddenly become much quieter, and that was when he realized: the Chitauri were gone. The high, keening noises of their biotech weapons and sky-pods had vanished, and the dull roars of their massive Leviathans had disappeared as well. The screams of terrified citizens, the blaring of police sirens- all that was gone too.
Could it be that what they thought was an attack from Loki had in fact been what saved them? Had the portal closed? Thoughts crowded Steve’s mind, thoughts of sabotage and secrets, and he was so distracted that he barely noticed when someone waved a hand in front of his face.
“Yo! Anyone home?”
He snapped out of his reverie. A girl he didn’t recognize was standing in front of him, holding out a water bottle. She looking vaguely disheveled.
“We’re on break while they reset,” she said brusquely, and handed him the bottle. He looked at it, and then back to the girl, having not understood a word she had said.
She stared back at him, her jaw set. “What are you waiting for? They’re gonna want you over at makeup for touch-ups like, five minutes ago! Re-hydrate yourself, I’m not doing it for you, here comes Sheila to drag you away and I’ve got to go get coffee for the grips and compile reports and refill the snack baskets and carry the AD’s backpack and....”
The girl turned on her heel and walked away from Steve, still reciting tasks, while he stood there with his mouth open.
Steve had no idea what was going on, and he had a feeling that it would only get worse. He saw out of his peripheral vision that the rest of the team were having similar encounters, and decided that they could take care of themselves for now. What he needed to do was some reconnaissance.
So he turned around, and looked up.
Steve staggered backwards, his breath catching in his throat. The sky had disappeared, to be replaced by a framework of dark metal piping and grating. The street he was standing on was still there, but twenty feet down on either side it just stopped, to be replaced by a sea of obnoxiously bright green stretching up for yards. The buildings of New York had been reduced to facades, through which that same green could be seen. Boxy lights strung up on poles reflected off of white screens set up around them, and cables and wires ran in twisted curves along the floor and up walls.
Where the street ended, cracked cement warehouse floor took its place. Dozens if not hundreds of people were bustling to and fro among carts, tables, and machinery, holding tools and clipboards and what Steve proudly was able to recognize as walkie-talkies. They all seemed to be walking with purpose, conferring and conversing with some measure of freneticism.
He was working on taking this all in when someone hissed in his ear.
“Captain, what the hell is happening?”
It was Agent Barton. Turning around again, Steve realized just how calm he was compared to the rest of the team. He guessed that his wake-up call in Times Square months back had prepared him adequately for these types of occasions, unlike everyone else. Barton’s face was practically white, and his hand was shaking with how tight a grip he had on his bow. Natasha looked like she was about to cry, Thor was holding his hammer to his mouth, and Dr. Banner was taking deep breaths with Tony Stark’s hand on his shoulder.
Steve was just about to tell Barton that he knew just as much as anyone else did, but before he could speak, someone grabbed him by the arm and spun him around.
He came face-to-face with a stout, matronly woman, her hair swept up in a loose bun. This must be the Sheila the girl had mentioned, Steve realized, and she was not looking happy.
“You’ve got to do touch-ups before the next take,” she said, tapping her foot impatiently.
“I know, I’m sorry,” Steve apologized. What was he supposed to say? He wasn’t going to be rude to this lady just because he had no idea where he was, or what was going on, or what a touch-up even was in the first place.
A hint of a smile crept up her pursed lips. “Always so polite,” she said. “It’s like you really are Captain America.”
And before he could ask her what the exactly she meant by that, he was pulled away by her firm grip. Craning his neck, he turned back to his team, who were all gaping at him. He gestured wildly at Sheila to indicate he had no control over his destination.
“I have no idea what’s happening!” he mouthed at them; then he turned a corner, and they were lost from sight.
Steve had disappeared behind the racks and moving carts, bewildered, and Tony and the other four left among the smoldering debris were still taking in their surroundings.
Bruce crouched down, picked up a bit of rubble, and crumbled it between his fingers. “It’s... styrofoam,” he said wonderingly.
Tony removed his faceplate, and gazed intently down the street- or, rather, what had been the street. The sickly green that now surrounded them reminded him of something.
“I recognize that color,” he said, slowly dredging up a memory.
“That hideous lime?” said Thor, with an air of disgust.
“Yeah,” said Tony. “I did some commercials for the company a while ago, you know, the ones with the pterodactyls?”
“Oh, come on, you’re telling me none of you saw those? They were totally viral! With the exploding cars, and the forest fires, and I come in and-”
“We get it, Stark, you’re a star,” Clint said sardonically.
Tony stuck out his tongue. “Anyway, they had me prancing around in front of one of those things.” He pointed at the horizon.“It’s... a green screen.”
“A what?” Thor asked, but before Tony could throw out a sarcastic retort about not having action movies in Asgard, he was interrupted.
Everyone had been so caught up in the situation that they hadn’t noticed Natasha leaving. But now she was stepping back onto the pavement with something in her hand.
She held it up so everyone could see. It was a black board with a striped top, and with numbers in white chalk written above glowing red numbers. Below that, a shiny logo that read:
Greg Hale, second second assistant director, was getting more peeved by the minute. He’d called cut five minutes ago, and the cast was still loitering on the set, talking amongst themselves. They were all million-dollar superstars, weren’t they? You would think they’d have some decorum and leave to let the set crew do their job, but it looked like they thought they deserved to take their sweet time.
“What are you doing still standing here?” he asked, striding up onto the false concrete and putting on his best assertive, directorial face. “You’ve got to clear out, we need to reset. Go get touched up, or head on over to craft services.”
He pointed helpfully across the soundstage floor to the craft service table, where an array of snacks and beverages were stocked for the actors’ convenience.
None of them moved. Greg noticed that they all looked vaguely spooked, like someone had just told them they’d been kicked out of the Screen Actor's Guild.
“Well, get going!” he said, irked. “We’re running on a tight schedule here, and the last take was corrupted somehow- everything turned out overexposed as fuck, Joss is pissed, and we’ve got to do it all over again.”
He was about to turn around and stalk authoritatively away, but he noticed suddenly that for some reason, Scarlett Johansson was holding a clapboard.
“Hey, where’d you get that? Give it to me,” he demanded. She handed it over; he noticed that her hands were shaking. Strange: Scarlett was usually fairly confident and cheerful after takes, not skittish and tense like she seemed to be now.
Greg took another look at all of the actors before he left to go yell at some set workers. He wasn’t the greatest at expressions- there was a reason he had gone into technical work instead of drama- but he could tell something was up. Were they upset about the take being ruined? It hadn’t been particularly amazing, to be honest; they should be glad to get another chance at it. Maybe some celebrity drama? Actors were like a whole other species.
It didn’t matter, Greg decided. They were all probably just tired, like he was, like everyone else on set was. He headed over towards a cluster of electricians, and decided to ignore the actors’ potential crisis in favor of the one he would face if he didn’t get shit moving on this set. He had a film to second second assistant direct.
“Don’t just stand around! Move, move, don’t you have things to plug in?”
“I told you, I’m not wearing any makeup!”
Steve’s attempts to ward off the probing hands of Sheila were proving fruitless. In her hands she held a veritable arsenal of strange brushes, pencils, and creams, all which she was endeavoring to apply to his face.
“That’s a very nice compliment, honey,” she said, dabbing a sticky, skin-colored paste onto his forehead while he squirmed. “I do my best to make it look like that on screen, don’t I? You’re playing a hero, you can’t look washed out and sickly under all those lights! So sit still!”
“Ah... uh, yes, of course,” mumbled Steve, while his mind swam with questions. Playing a hero? He’d had his career described many ways- an exhibitionist, a phony, a true paragon of courage- but never so blithely as “playing” a part. What could she possibly mean by that?
He had almost resigned himself completely to getting smeared with cosmetics for reasons unknown, when out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of an instantly familiar streak of red and gold. He swiveled around to confirm that it was indeed Tony Stark, and it looked like he was making his way towards the makeup table. Steve was amused to note that, even though they were in a strange place and possibly a great deal of danger, Stark had already formed a small entourage. A posse of assistants and attendants were attempting to hand him folders and papers like he was back home at Stark Tower and nothing was wrong.
Ignoring Sheila’s loud protests, Steve got up out of her chair and jogged hurriedly towards Tony, wiping greasy makeup off his face with the back of his hand as he went.
Tony saw him approaching and dismissed his companions with a wave of his hand. They they scurried off past racks and rolling carts, and Tony watched them as they went and said, “They’re all very nice people, but they seem to have forgotten that I don’t get handed things- Rogers, are you wearing makeup?”
Steve decided not to deign that with a response. “Stark, do you have any idea what’s going on? Where’s the rest of the team, we’ve got to regroup, we can’t lose anyone-”
“Calm your tights, Cap, it’s all under control,” said Tony. “Unless it’s from overzealous cosmetics application, as in your case, we’re not in any danger.” He gestured expansively past Steve to the lime green walls and the eerily real-looking replica of the New York City street, and the people thronging the floor of the airy, warehouse-like space. Stark seemed to be right, however much suspicion Steve still held about their whereabouts- there were no aliens, no explosions, and so far no sign of Loki. Maybe they were safe after all.
“Here, check it out.” Tony gave Steve a stapled packet that his retinue had managed to force onto him, and with his free hand grabbed a candy bar from a tray someone was carrying by.
Steve scanned the top sheet of the packet, and read aloud: “‘Marvel’s The Avengers... Call Sheet, September 16th, 2011, third revision... Cast, Crew, Staff...’” What the...? This had to be some sort of prank...
“Sir! Excuse me, sir! You can’t be eating in that costume!” A short, dark-haired man had come up to them, and he proceeded to practically yank the candy bar out of Tony’s hand. “Do you know how much trouble I’d be in with Suzi if you got anything on that suit? Not to mention the continuity supervisors, they’re halfway to insane today already.”
“Excuse me?” Tony said, affronted. Steve could tell he was about to launch into a clever, sassy retaliation, defending his right to eat whatever he want whenever he wanted because he was Tony Stark, etc. etc. ad nauseum, but the man had already walked off.
Steve barely succeeded in suppressing his laughter at the look on Stark’s face, which was growing redder by the second.
“Anyway,” said Tony, attempting to regain his composure, “everyone else is at the snacks table. Let’s go.”
So they headed over, squeezing past workers carrying strange equipment and pushing racks full of clothes, all bearing walkie-talkies or earpieces like Nick Fury’s. Steve tried to take everything in, hoping he’d find a clue to solving the secret of their situation among the myriad of people who all seemed to know exactly what they were doing. But the only thing he noticed were the looks he got from the passersby, looks that were not entirely unlike those he’d received as he was fighting the Chitauri not half an hour ago. They bordered between incredulity and enamorment, and the familiarity of the stares made him wonder if this wasn’t all just a big mistake, if SHIELD had shot them with a transport beam or something by accident, and if they walked out of the doors of this warehouse they’d be right back in the heat of battle.
As they came closer to the table, Steve saw that Natasha, Barton, Thor, and Dr. Banner were huddled together, deep in conversation, next to an elaborately arranged spread of vegetables, pastries, and beverages.
“So, have you been able to work anything out?” Dr. Banner was the first to notice Steve and Tony’s arrival, and looked expectantly up at them.
“Well, we found this,” said Steve. He handed Banner the packet he had been holding, and then picked up a stick of celery from the table. Hey, it was free, and he was hungry; with all the chaos of the past few days, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten.
Natasha peered over the doctor’s shoulder as he read. “What’s a call sheet?” she asked. “What are all these names?”
Banner held it away from his face, screwing up his eyes in an attempt to read without his glasses. “I... I think...” he started to say, but his revelation was abruptly cut off by a shout coming from behind them.
“Oh, great! You guys got the revisions as well! How d’you like them?”
Steve almost choked on his celery. He’d have recognized that voice anywhere.
Slowly, reluctant to face what he knew he’d see, Steve turned around, a deep and potent fury building inside of him.
Standing in front of them was none other than Loki, in all his green, gold and ghastly glory. His greasy dark hair reflected the floodlights of the warehouse, and in his hand he held his sharp-tipped golden scepter.
Nobody said anything. Loki’s eyes moved searchingly over each Avenger in turn, and when they met Steve’s, he felt a cold shiver run down his spine. The demigod opened his mouth to speak, and Steve wondered if he would let loose with another scathing, sharp-tongued oration on how they would inevitably be defeated.
“Er, why are you all looking at me like that? Was it something I said?”