“Well.” Barton, so grim and serious it hurts, rotates 3D blueprints of a grey building. Six levels, two above ground, four under. “This is Chemistry Building of Chester University, currently – the compound of Ray Delacre, Mad Scientist of the Week, and his crew. We have proof that they have Cap there, along with all University staff that was at work yesterday. Some of them definitely are involved, but there are at least 20 civilian hostages. SHIELD is tied up elsewhere, so it’s only us.”
“Then let us go to enemy’s camp and free our Captain!” It’s Thor, of course, and Tony rolls his eyes, because, seriously? Or maybe he could cut the guy some slack – it’s the first time they have a rescue mission on their hands when the Asgardian is around. Barton is being kind enough to explain, though.
“It’s a reinforced building, Thor. You land on that roof – they’ll have enough time to kill him.”
Legolas has a point, but Tony still hears himself mumbling: “It’s not that easy.”
“Yeah, but they have plenty of other hostages to choose from. You want to face Steve and tell him we allowed a bunch of civilians get killed because we were saving him?”
Another point. Well, then…
“Then we need a plan of attack.” There is a joke there but the one it should have been aimed at is absent, Barton obviously doesn’t get it and you can never tell with Romanoff. Doesn’t matter now. “So, Robin Hood, what’s your idea?”
“Mine?” Barton looks confused, damn it, what it is with them today?
“Yours. I’m a genius, but we have exactly two tacticians on this team, and the first one is in need of a rescue. So, plan, Agent Barton.” Tony doesn’t add ‘you almost dropped the Helicarrier down once, that little hut shouldn’t be a problem’, but only because Natasha is sitting close enough to kill him with one finger.
Barton freezes for a second, then smirks and enlarges the blueprints so they could see the details. “First of all, Thor, we’ll need you in something less remarkable than this,” – he gestures at the armour. Thor’s turn to look confused, so Barton elaborates: “I know you can do good old-fashioned brawl, seen it myself.”
Thor smiles and nods, and Tony makes a mental note to read the full report on New Mexico incident. Once they have Steve home safe and sound and back at the helm, of course.
It should have been… not impossible, but difficult. Really difficult. Reinforced facility in full lockdown, lots of guards, civilian hostages – and three agents, only two of them actually professionals. Not very good odds, even if said professionals are literally the best in the field. But it turns out that having Tony Stark running the IT side of the op tilts the scales in your favor a little… Or a lot. It also helps that the guards – supposedly on the lookout for Avengers – can’t recognize Thor, when he is in casual clothes playing local idiot with Mjolnir nowhere in sight. It’s the riskiest part of the plan, actually, but Thor solemnly promised to rein his strength in for as long as necessary, and so far he’s successfully kept occupied the better part of the outer perimeter guards. Which, together with JARVIS making himself at home in the building’s systems, makes Clint and Natasha’s jobs a walk in the park. No, really.
In a half in hour they control the facility enough for Iron Man to land on the roof in full glory, including blazing AC/DC, but Clint doesn’t hear his speech, because he is finally in that cell - which looks disturbingly like a lab - that was their goal all along.
“Doctor Banner,” he says into the comm, slowly and carefully, “we need you here. Thor, fetch him from the jet now.”
“What is it, Clint?” Bruce asks, over the wind from Thor’s comm and abrupt silence from Tony.
What it is that Steve is lying on a gurney, unconscious and restrained, and there is plenty of syringes and bottles and data around, and they need Bruce to make sense of all that. Out loud, though, he says only the second part, and emphasizes the word ‘need’, because looking at Steve’s still form makes something Hulk-like rising even inside himself.
Thor brings Bruce and goes to help Natasha with prisoners; soon Clint has to call Stark downstairs, too, because it looks like they’ll need Iron Man lasers to undo those restraints. With the science duo busy in the lab, it’s up to Clint to deal with freed hostages; on his way up he finally manages to get through to SHIELD and yells at them, demanding an evac chopper or two, and someone to deal with local authorities, civilians, the ‘hired muscle’ part of the bad guys; in short, all the things Fury usually doesn’t want the Avengers do themselves. Clint probably scares Sitwell more than the situation warranted, but he can’t bring himself to care.
The hostages more or less behave, so he could shamelessly listen in on how, two floors down, Natasha is getting more creative every second with her promises. He wholeheartedly approves, and he, it turns out, is not alone, because when Stark enters the channel again, his first words are:
“I’m bowing down before your imagination, Agent Romanoff.” And damn if he doesn’t sound serious. “Barton, we’re clear here, but we’ll need a proper ride. What’s their ETA?”
“Three minutes,” Clint answers, and then Natasha asks: “Do you need anything from this garbage?”
Valid question, but Clint doesn’t like the idea of any one of those ‘scientists’ anywhere near Steve again. Or Bruce, for that matter.
“No, they recorded everything. And it doesn’t look like they knew what they were doing in the first place.” There is something like professional contempt in Bruce’s voice, among other things; and contempt should be better in this situation than fear or uncertainty, right?
The best medical facility SHIELD has is in the main HQ in New York, so at least they all fly to the same place. Still, Natasha and Clint are the last ones to show in the tiny waiting room. Stark is pacing and Thor is holding up the wall, and it’s obvious from their faces that there isn’t any news yet, but Thor nevertheless says that out loud, adding:
“Doctor Banner and Doctor McCardy are working.”
Doc McCardy headed the team that defrosted Steve back then, and Clint gives himself a mental kick for not thinking about sending for him and makes a mental note to thank whoever did.
“Well,” Natasha looks at him, than herself. “Doc would never let us in looking like this. I’ll be right back.”
She comes back five minutes later, in a standard uniform and with wet hair. Clint follows her example, because, one, she had a point; and two, waiting is more comfortable when you aren’t wearing evidence of a field mission all over yourself. He comes back in the middle of Stark’s tirade about ‘lack of decent service in that place’/ ‘don’t know what I’m doing here’/ ‘should at least get some coffee’ and so on. He leaves the room without shutting up, causing a confused expression on Thor’s face, and Natasha mumbles for his benefit:
“Yeah, God forbid we’ll know he cares.”
Thor’s expression clears, and Clint silently pays respect to Banner’s teaching skills, because it was he who’d tried, two weeks ago, to explain to Asgardian that humans tend to hide their feelings and emotions for plenty of reasons, not just for evil plotting.
Stark comes back empty-handed, but followed by a junior agent with a tray full of coffee; it must be some magic, because a second later inner door finally opens and Bruce and Doc McCardy show up.
“Whatever crap they injected him with,” Bruce takes off his glasses and rubs his nose in a familiar gesture, “the serum is taking care of it. He is just sleeping now, not unconscious, and we hope he’ll just sleep it off soon.”
Thor’s sigh of relief is loud enough to drown the others, and it’s good, because Clint and Natasha are being damn unprofessional about this.
“How long?” Natasha asks.
“From several hours to couple of days, hardly longer, Agent Romanoff. And one more thing, lady and gentlemen,” Doc surveys them all with a glare. “I’d like to remind you that last time Captain Rogers was conscious, he was in a hostile environment. I’d appreciate if the room survives his awakening.”
“I will keep our Captain company until he is back with us,” Thor promises with all his sincerity, while Clint resists the urge to roll his eyes. Doc really thought they would let Steve wake up alone? Thor had a point, though – if Cap wakes up fighting, Thor will be able to reassure him with minimum damage to them both and the equipment.
“Good. Once nurse Ransy leaves the room, you can come inside.” With a nod in their general direction Doc leaves, and, once the door is closed, Natasha says:
“’Safe’ is not the only reassurance Cap will need once he wakes up in a strange place.”
Clint gets it immediately, but Natasha has to explain her point to the other three.
It’s no wonder she is the first to think about it – after all, she was in the HQ when that little nineteen-fourties charade orchestrated by the psych department blew up into their faces. She called, of course, and entertained him with all the details; they even had a bet going about that baseball game with the wrong date. ‘Archive screwed up’ was a boring version, so Natasha thought it was some test, organized by Fury, and Clint bet on that being subtle sabotage from Coulson, who’d never approved the deceit in the first place. They never got to settle that bet… Clint shakes his head, driving away unwanted memories, and joins the discussion about Cap-sitting shifts.
The solution they end up with is that either Clint or Tony should be there with Thor all the time – like the only team members whose ‘aging process is definitely natural’. This is silly in a way, and they are probably overthinking the problem – even if it makes sense, it’s a question of five minutes at the most. But it’s Cap they are talking about, worse, it’s Steve… and it’s good that Natasha can’t hear his thoughts now, she’ll call him a sentimental fool and never let him live it down. Even if she started it.
Steve slowly resurfaces, doing a mental inventory of himself. Nothing really hurts, but memories are a mess, so he focuses on the outside for now. Smell comes first, and it’s familiar – chemical of sorts, like in a hospital. Or a lab. With that, the most recent (supposedly) memories come back and Steve tenses and then immediately forces himself to relax, hoping nobody notices he is awake. Hearing comes back next, and there are voices nearby.
“Tell me they are recording this!”
“From three different angles, Stark. It’ll be a hit in HQ theatre for a week at least, but live is still much better.”
Familiar voices, friendly voices, and Steve opens his eyes abruptly – he has to make sure he is not hallucinating this. He isn’t, or maybe his sight is compromised, too, because he sees Thor sitting on his right, and Clint and Tony are standing on the left.
“Welcome back, Captain.” Thor says, and Steve opens his mouth to ask what happened, but his parched throat doesn’t want to work. The next moment, the top of his bed elevates so that he sort of sits, Clint holds a glass of water with a straw for him, and Tony is talking.
“Okay, now with the Sleeping Beauty awake, we can be finally done with that show. Really boring, by the way, even the Chester part wasn’t very entertaining, the Redhead is the only one who managed to get some fun… Be good, guys, I have some much more interesting places to be.”
With that, Tony leaves the room, Steve coughs on his water and Thor touches his hand.
“Our friend means that we are very glad to see you awake, Steven. We were worried.”
And with that, huge relief flows through Steve – not a hallucination, not a dream. Because of course he could have dreamed up the rescue, the room with that SHIELD eagle on the wall, his friends nearby and even (though it’s already a stretch) a trademark Stark-bullshit-monologue, but Thor actually explaining it? No way. It’s real. It’s all real. But it still leaves some questions; and Steve looks at Clint, who, of course, can be as much a chatterbox as Tony, but doesn’t forget to give actual information.
“He also meant the situation was taken care off. Natasha is playing with Delacre in interrogation downstairs, Bruce is watching and making science-y comments, civilians are safe back in Chester with no serious injuries and all the bad guys under lock. Everything is okay, or will be, once Doc clears you to go home. So, Cap, how do you feel?”
He is still processing what Clint said, so answers without thinking. “Safe.”