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Shanghai Dangerous

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After New York, Tony surrounded himself with suits. They were his cacoon, his protection from the outer world. When he wasn’t in one, he was diligently training his body so he couldn’t be caught off-guard. So that he would never go down without a fight.

In the end, it turned out he hadn’t been able to go without his suits. Not until that Christmas, when he made his promise to Pepper.

But he hadn’t forgotten what he had learned.

“You think SHIELD would give us a goddamn cellphone that worked in China,” Clint grumbled, preparing to throw the phone against the wall.

Tony caught his wrist. “I need that.” He had lost his own cellphone somewhere in the immediate attack. The smoke bombs had started flying at the conference, and it was only then Tony had learned Clint and Natasha were there at all. He had been tackled from the side by Clint out of the way of some gunfire.

He had supposed he should be thankful that SHIELD had bothered to put a protection detail on him at all, but after the Mandarin it seemed like a futile gesture.  It was almost like an apology for not being there when the shit really hit the fan.

Tony started taking the phone apart as the three of them crouched behind a bed in a room Clint had broken in to. The hotel they were in was quite large, but A.I.M. had enough men to patrol the stairwells and shut down the elevators. “Why do you guys only have like, three guns and a knife between you?” Tony asked.

Natasha gave him a glare, before pulling her hair back. She was half out of a dress that of course had some kind of cat suit underneath. “This was supposed to be an observation-only trip,” she said.

“If that’s the case, why are you wearing a catsuit?” Tony asked.

“Because that’s what she always wears,” Clint sighed. Tony gave him a slap on the back of his tuxedo, feeling the body armor underneath. He hissed, making a disapproving face as Clint turned around to glare at him. “And you, my friend, this is far too thick. Remind me later, I’ll let you borrow an S.I. model.” He thumped his chest.  He hadn’t been quite ready to give up all of his protection in one go, but hey, baby steps. “Very thin. Can hardly tell it’s there. Of course, that’s after you apologize for hanging me out to dry last Christmas.”

He noticed a guilty look pass between the two agents.

“Look, Stark,” Clint began.

“We were out of the country. Now is really not the time to be discussing this,” Natasha hissed.

Tony made a noncommittal sound as he reached up, grabbing the alarm clock off the bedside table and wrenching it open. “Well if you don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “Maybe you want to tell me why you guys are here, at a clean energy expo, where Stark Industries wasn’t even on the program?” He started pulling out wires. “Did you have intel that A.I.M. was going to be here?” Tony mocked gasped in surprise. “No, probably not since you only have like two weapons.” He smirked. “So I can conclude through reasonable assumption that you were here to check up on me. But was it because you wanted to help, or was it just to make sure I was a functioning member of society again?” he couldn’t keep the bitter chuckle out of his voice.

“Stark,” Natasha said softly and almost gently.

Tony ignored her, moving quickly to the bathroom where he tore the hairdryer off the wall. He moved back over to where Clint and Natasha were both looking at him with carefully blank faces.

“Unfortunately for you two,” he said, pulling the coils out of the hair dryer. “I will never be a functioning member of society.” He pushed on the barrel of the hairdryer a little too hard, making his thumb jam into guts. He gave a small hiss before shaking his thumb.

“Um…”Clint said. “What are you building?”

“Insurance,” grumbled Tony. “Give me your knife.” Wordlessly, Clint handed over his knife which Tony used to cut off the cord of the hair dryer. He snapped Clint’s phone in half, pulling out more wires to attach the part with the battery to the wires he pulled out of the handle of the hairdryer. “So how are we getting out of here?”

“You’re not coming,” Natasha said sternly.

“You bet your ass I am,” Tony growled.

“You’re not,” Natasha growled.

“No, you don’t get a say in my life! Only I get a say in my life! No one, not anything, is going to control my life ever again! So I am going with you, because I’ll be damned if I sit on my ass when I could have been DOING SOMETHING!” Tony realized the last sentence was shouted. He stared at Natasha, wide-eyed, who looked back with something Tony could only describe as regret.

 Finally she sighed. “I understand.”

“YOU-wait, what?”

But she didn’t get a chance to explain. At that moment, drawn by the sound of Tony’s yelling (he was sure), the door was kicked in by a huge man with a suit. Both Clint and Natasha were up and firing, Clint hitting him in the head while Natasha shot him in the chest. He went down quickly but a shotgun being held by someone else was aimed around the doorframe.

Clint pulled Natasha and Tony down as a huge chunk of bedding exploded above them. Natasha maneuvered on the floor around the corner, firing off one shot into the doorframe. She quickly pulled herself back behind the bed, not wanting to waste the ammo.

“Dammit,” she cursed.

Tony flipped the switch on the hair dryer, which immediately began sparking. “Get ready to run,” he hissed. He sat up, tossing the hairdryer through the doorway and into the hallway.

There was a guttural shout over the whine of the hairdryer. With a sharp crack, they heard something explode and the smell of burning metal assailed their nostrils. There was a scream from around the door. Clint stood up, vaulted over the bed and was out of the room quickly followed by Natasha and then Tony.

Tony rounded the corner to see a man with his jacket on fire getting punched in the face by Clint. He fell to his knees with a moan of pain as Clint leapt over him. Natasha followed up with a knee in his face, and Tony heard the sound of bone breaking. Natasha also leaped over his falling form, and Tony scooted around.

“So what’s the plan now?” Tony huffed as they ran down the hallway.

“Shutup,” Natasha hissed.

“That’s it? That’s the whole plan?” Tony said incredulously.

“No, it means she’s thinking of one, and you need to shut up,” Clint barked.

They rounded another corner at the end of the hallway. “Well, that’s not very reass-”

Bullets erupted around them and Tony’s arms immediately went up to cover his chest and face. He felt Natasha yank him back behind the relative safety of the wall and to the floor as plaster rained down on them.  Clint, who was already on the ground, shimmied backwards and fell into Natasha and Tony, cursing.

“So, maybe not that way,” Natasha panted.

“So, new plan then,” Tony said.

Clint threw an arm up to cover his face as more plaster rained down on them. “Yep.”

The archer pulled a card out of his pocket and swiped it through the lock of the door next to them. The light flashed green and he pushed it inwards. Tony and Natasha followed him inside and they shut the door after them.

“That’s not going to keep them out,” Natasha intoned. “They probably have a housekeeping card too.” She moved over to the window, drawing her gun. She shot the glass twice. It splintered, but held.

Clint, without missing a beat, grabbed the desk chair in the room and hurled it through the glass.

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Are we…”

“Yep.” Clint tore the sheets off the bed and began tying them together.

Tony’s eyes widened at the actions. “Are you kidding me? They only do this in movies!”

“Got a better idea?” Clint hissed. He tied the sheet around one of the legs of the heavy desk next to the window.

There was a loud click and they all looked towards the door. It swung open and a metal can hit the floor with a ping.

“Nope!” Tony said, grabbing the makeshift rope and moving towards the window. Clint and Natasha followed and all three swung over the ledge. Natasha grabbed onto the sheets right above Tony, her legs kicking him in the back.

An explosion above them rocked the wall and the desk the sheet was tied to. Tony and Natasha fell a few feet, but the makeshift rope held. Clint, however, was knocked from his perch on the windowsill. The archer began to fall through space, but Tony leaned back and thrust out his arm, catching the other man by the wrist. The three Avengers slammed into the wall hard, as their momentum carried them into it.

Tony bit back a cry of pain as the Clint’s full weight yanked his arm downwards.

Clint looked up at Tony and muttered a breathless “Thanks!”

“Don’t mention it,” Tony gritted out. The sheet, now holding the body weight of three people, was beginning to stretch down the wall at an alarming rate, accompanied by soft tearing sounds. The pool roof was still about three stories below them. “Ugh, not the way I wanted to go,” he growled again.

“Clint, is there anything you can grab on to?” Natasha called down. He let out a bitter, harsh laugh.

“I haven’t suddenly gained spider powers!”

“Oh, good one!” Tony growled sarcastically.

Natasha let out a grunt of frustration. She let go of the sheet with one hand and reached down to her inner thigh. Which was currently resting against Tony’s face.

“Watch it!” He shouted as her finger jabbed into his eye. She didn’t apologize, just moved her hand over his forehead until she reached the hilt of her knife. She drew it far too fast for Tony’s liking considering it was next to his face, before she twirled it around and stabbed it into the mortar between two bricks. She braced her boots against the brick, then slowly let go of the sheet.

It held.

Clint grabbed onto it, and Tony breathed a huge sigh of relief as the pressure on his arm was instantly released.

Natasha’s free hand reached down to her lower back where she drew another knife and slammed it into the mortar a little farther down. She let her weight transfer, before she jiggled the first one free.

“Hey, what about us?” Tony said as the sheet dropped another few inches.

“Just go down as slowly as you can. The sheet should lower enough that you can drop without falling.”

“This…I don’t like you very much,” growled Tony. Beneath him, Clint began to lower himself down, and Tony slowly followed suit.

The tinkle of glass sounded above them, and Tony looked to see an A.I.M. agent lean out the broken window. His gun came a second later.

“Oh, shit!”

Clint aimed his pistol upwards, making Tony flinch out of the way. The expert marksman didn’t hit Tony, of course. But Tony’s ears were ringing uncomfortably.  The A.I.M. agent ducked back inside, and a moment later appeared with a knife.

Tony’s eyes widened. He didn’t have time to warn the others as suddenly the sheet beneath his hands was slack and he was falling.

The sensation of falling wasn’t new to Tony Stark. The sensation of hitting the ground wasn’t new to Tony Stark. He still didn’t like it. Especially without armor. He felt his bone in his left forearm crack, the pain washing out all of his other senses. He forgot how to breathe. His whole body ached but the arm was a sharp, unforgiving sensation pulsing in time to his heartbeat. He blinked away the tears, noticing then that Clint was on the roof next to him. The archer seemed to be in a similar state, rolling around slowly on the ground. There was the sound of gunshots, but they seemed far away to Tony.

A moment later, Natasha hit the ground. She landed in a crouch, but then slumped down to her elbows.

Tony flinched as gravel exploded around them. Bullets. They had to move. Natasha was already getting to her feet. She reached for Clint, pulling him to his feet. She reached for Tony a moment later, grabbing his injured arm. He choked off a scream, and she instantly let go, grabbing his other arm instead and pulling him to the safety of the roof door.

She yanked it open, pushing the two men inside where they collapsed against the walls. Natasha sank to the floor a second later, breathing hard. “Stark,” she panted. “What’s wrong with your arm?”

“Broken,” he mumbled. “Everything else mostly working, though.” He thought back for a minute, remembering the gunshots. “Did you get shot?”

She smiled, tearing away part of the cat suit covering on her arm. It revealed black, flexible, light body armor underneath. “S.I. body armor,” she breathed. “I only get the best.”

He grinned, head turning to look at Clint who was breathing hard. The archer pulled his bow tie off his neck with a grimace. “How come you get that…and I don’t?” he panted.

She waved her hand vaguely. “Women’s clothes are always too thin…asked for this…special.” Her look grew more serious. “You hurt?”

“Cracked a few ribs,” he muttered. Natasha leaned over and before Clint could stop her, pushed against his rib cage. He shouted and curled in on himself, and she winced sympathetically.

“Not cracked. Broken,” she asserted.

He glared back at her. “Coulda just asked,” he panted.

Tony held his broken arm just above his navel, curling slightly over it. “So…” he inhaled sharply through gritted teeth. “So, is now…a good time?”

Natasha rolled her head warily towards him. “For what?”

“To discuss our conversation from earlier,” Tony said quietly.

They were all silent for a minute before Natasha spoke up. “Not really, but I’ll indulge you as we wait for A.I.M. to find us.”

“Nat,” Clint breathed.

She ignored him. She lowered her chin, so she was looking Tony straight in the eye. “SHIELD deemed terrorist bombings a threat that could be handled by the rest of the U.S. Government. Despite your history with the Ten Rings, they assumed between Colonel Rhodes, you, and a lot of drones they could handle one terrorist.”

Tony looked down at his arm. That was another thing he had failed at, locked away in his basement. People shouldn’t depend on him. He always let them down.

Natasha continued. “It wasn’t until we were halfway across the world that we saw footage of your house.”

Tony sniffed loudly. “Well, that was sort of my fault.”

Clint snorted. “Bet your girlfriend was pissed.”

Tony scrunched up his face. “Kinda yeah, but she-know what? I don’t want to talk about her right now. I think we need to leave, so how about-”

“We’re sorry we weren’t there,” Natasha interrupted him.

Clint leaned forward, wincing, and put his hand on Tony’s knee. “We shoulda been there. We owed it to you. You deserved it.”

Tony blinked back the sudden wetness in his eyes and told himself it was because of his arm. He still wasn’t sure what he had ever done to earn these people’s loyalty. He didn’t think he could keep it.

Tony nodded slowly, not trusting himself to look either agent in the eye right now. “We should…should move,” he stuttered out. He began to get to his feet, sweat breaking out on his forehead as he tried not to move his injured arm.

Clint watched him for a moment with eyes that were far too knowing for Tony’s taste. Sensing his unease, the archer closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall in a casual gesture. “I don’t feel like moving. Let’s just wait for A.I.M. to come by and shoot ‘em in the hallway.”

Natasha stood up, smirking slightly. She reached out her hand to Tony first, who gripped it with his good arm. She helped him to his feet before reaching for Clint.

“What’ve we got left?” Tony asked.

Natasha held out her glock and an extra clip. “Lost the knives,” she mumbled sourly.

Clint walked a few feet down the hallway before he smashed his elbow into a glass case. Knocking the glass out of the way with his jacket sleeve, he pulled a short fire axe out and smirked at the others. “And my axe!”

Tony blinked. “You already have a part in the movie.”

Clint just tossed the axe in the air experimentally before grabbing it, wincing slightly as his rib pain flared up.

“Show off,” mumbled Natasha. She stocked past him and they made their way down the hallway stairs. She opened the door slightly, gun pointed in front of her. “Not here yet. Maybe they can’t read a map.” She pushed the door open wider, and all three followed them out.

Tony caught sight of a cleaning supply closet and slapped Clint on the arm. “Gimme your card,” he said.

The archer saw where he was looking and moved to open the door for him. Tony moved into the closet, taking stock of the supplies before he began tearing things off the shelf. He unscrewed the top of a spray bottle and dumped out the contents. There was a bulletin board that had a bunch of schedules tacked up. He put the bottle on a shelf so he could use his good hand to rip down the pieces of paper and put the tacks into the bottle. Next, Tony pulled off a huge piece of tin foil from a nearby roll, rolling it up into little balls and stuffing them inside the bottle.

“Hurry,” Natasha urged keeping an eye out down the hallway.

Tony looked around again and found a half-finished bottle of Snapple on the shelf. He smashed it against the wall, picking up the pieces of broken glass and adding them to the bottle. Finally, he wrenched the cap off a bottle of Draino, pouring it into the bottle. He then screwed the nozzle back on.

“Ready,” he panted.

Tony was careful not to shake the bottle at all as they continued to move down the hallway. “You think it’s bad they’re trying to kill me?” he whispered loudly.

Clint raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you?”

“No, he’s right,” Natasha said. “It’s bad news when you’re an evil scientific organization and you don’t want to kidnap Tony Stark for either ransom or knowledge.”

Clint grimaced. “Right.”

“I’m usually so popular,” he mumbled.

“Well, let’s all stay alive, huh?” Clint said. He hefted his axe.

No sooner had he said it, a door to the stairwell in front of them was kicked open and five very large, very angry looking men poured out.

Tony gave the bottle in his hand a few shakes before hurtling it into the men. Natasha pulled the back of his shirt and yanked him into a small side room that had a vending machine. Clint ducked in with them, and a few moments later there was a huge explosion. Caustic smoke began filling the hallway, and the three Avengers got on the ground as their eyes started to water.

Tony frowned as the fire alarm still didn’t go off. He couldn’t get all the way on the ground because he was still holding his broken arm against his torso, but he scooted past Natasha to have a look down the hall. He saw three pairs of legs, still leaving two unaccounted for. He couldn’t tell where they were, the smoke was too thick.

“Romaoff, can you see anything?”

She leaned around him looking into the hallway. “No, but-”

There was a bang and Natasha’s body sagged to the ground. Tony stared uncomprehendingly for a moment as Clint cursed, pulling her back into cover. Natasha’s half-lidded eyes stared at them uncomprehendingly, the left-hand side of her face beginning to turn red as blood seeped from a wound in her temple.  Clint ripped part of his shirt holding it against her temple.

“Nat! Jesus, Nat. Nat, can you hear me?” She blinked sluggishly at him.

Tony took the gun from her with his good hand, ready to cover them. If the fire alarm hadn’t gone off, it meant A.I.M. had disabled all the alarms, and the chances of help coming were pretty slim. They were rapidly running out of options. “How is she?”

In response, Natasha groaned. Clint stood, grimacing in pain as he pulled her upwards. She moaned again, head rolling forward. Tony pushed himself up next to them. The smoke was beginning to dissipate, and he poked his head around one corner. A bullet impacted the wall underneath his face and he shouted, stumbling backwards.

Clint gently pushed Natasha towards Tony. “Switch.” Tony took Natasha’s body weight as she leaned against him, handing Clint the gun. The archer did a quick survey and pulled his head back in the doorway. Before Tony took his next breath, Clint was rolling out of the vending machine room into the hallway. He brought his gun up and fired twice.

There were two loud thumps, and no more gunshots.

Clint leaned forward, head to the carpet, and sucked in some shallow breaths.

“Sssssucked,” he wheezed.

“Yeah,” Tony agreed, half escorting, half carrying Natasha out into the hallway after him. Clint slowly got to his feet, before dropping the empty clip out of the gun. He reached towards Natasha’s waist where she was keeping the extra. Faster than a concussed person should be able to move, she snatched out her hand to wrap around his wrist. She didn’t seem entirely aware of what she had done. Her eyelids continued to flutter as her head rolled loosely from shoulder to shoulder.

Clint didn’t flinch, just spoke to her in a low, soothing voice. “It’s okay, Nat. It’s okay. It’s Clint, I’m here. You’re okay. Can you let go of my wrist? I have to get the clip. Please, Natasha.”

“Clint,” she whispered. Her eyes looked upward and focused on his face. He smiled at her as a slightly puzzled expression crossed her face. “Clint?” she said, voice a little stronger.

“You got grazed in the head,” he explained.

She shut her eyes, forehead scrunched in pain as she remembered. “Yeah,” she agreed. “How long?”

“Just a few minutes,” Tony piped up. “Probably will need stitches though.” She nodded, and Clint reached forward to take the clip from her belt. She didn’t stop him. Instead, she looked down the hallway at both the bodies that had been shot, plus the ones that been torn apart by Tony’s drano/shrapnel bomb. “Think there’s more?” he asked her.

“There’s always more. We need to get to the lobby.” She tried to step away from Tony, but stumbled. Tony caught her around the waste with his good arm at the same time as Clint but his hand on her shoulder to steady her.

“You take this,” he handed her the axe. “But I think I’ll hang onto this. Until you’re steadier of course.” He smiled, replacing the clip in the gun.

The three of them then began a slow descent down the stairwell.

Clint was first, gun held down at his waist. The strain on his ribs was showing; he wouldn’t lift his arms for more than a few moments and a fine sheet of sweat covered his face. Tony didn’t look much better. He’d been running around with a non-splinted limb for about half an hour, and he knew if he didn’t get it taken care of soon he was probably going to tear something. Instead, he continued to hold the appendage as close to his body as possible. Natasha was walking a little steadier, but her head continued to bleed sluggishly, and her body language said she was ready to lie down and take a nap at any moment.

They had tried a service phone they found in the hallway, but there was no signal. It confirmed what they already knew;  help was not on the way.

They had descended two floors when they heard a door open above them. They all pushed into the wall and froze, listening. There were no voices, footsteps or movements of any kind. Clint took a slow step forward, peering upwards between the stair railings. Tony took a breath to speak, but a quick look from Natasha shut him up.

Clint took a slow step backwards shaking his head and motioning for Natasha to watch their rear. She nodded and turned, right as a glowing, Extremis-enhanced soldier leapt into view on the landing above them.

Clint’s eyes widened and he fired his gun. The bullet pinged harmlessly off the wall eight feet away as the man dodged, grinning savagely. Natasha took a step backwards towards Clint, swinging the axe in an arc in front of her. It cut through the man’s chest and he hissed, but continued his advance. He grabbed Natasha’s throat and slammed her into the ground. Dazed, she let go of the axe. Clint leveled his gun again, but the man pulled Natasha off the ground and threw her into him. They both went down with cries of pain and in a tangle of limbs.

Tony had grabbed the axe Natasha dropped, swinging it at the back of the man’s head as he tossed Natasha, but he was too fast. He was already ducking as he let the spy go, and pivoted around. He grabbed Tony’s wrist and pulled him close so that their faces were almost touching. He grinned savagely again and Tony could feel the heat radiating from his skin. The man spun quickly and slammed Tony into the railing, making the billionaire to grunt in pain. Before he could get his bearings, the Extremis soldier leaned down, grabbed Tony’s ankle. He brought it up swiftly, flipping Tony over the railing and onto the landing below.

Tony landed on his already broken arm, and the world whited out for what felt like a long time.

Natasha saw the Tony fall, and gave an enraged scream, kicking out at the man’s knee. It wasn’t as strong as she would have liked, but it was successful in putting him off balance. He stumbled and she rolled forward grabbing the axe. She felt Clint rise up behind her. She lunged past the man, swinging her axe as she did so. He screamed as she felt the axe messily hack through his hamstring. She felt the hot spray of blood on the back of her neck and turned to see Clint take two steps and press the gun against the man’s forehead. He didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

The man crumpled to the ground, unmoving. Natasha shakily got to her feet and moved down the stairs where Tony was lying still. Clint stayed behind, making sure the Extremis soldier was dead.

Tony was lying face down, body draped across multiple stairs. She gently turned him over. As she looked over his body, there were a few new cuts on his face, but bile rose in her throat when she saw the stark white of bone contrasting with the bright red blood and tan flesh. His fracture was now a compound one and it was poking through his skin.

“Clint, I need your jacket.” She heard shuffling, and a moment later Clint was by her side, shrugging out of his jacket. Tony’s eyes fluttered, his skin now drenched in sweat. He kept swallowing and unconsciously licking his lips. “Tony, can you hear me?”

The response was a low, pained whine.

“I have to wrap your arm, okay? It’s going to hurt.” There was no vocal response, but Tony’s body kept shifting in non-deliberate movements. Clint moved to hold down his shoulders. Natasha took his wrist and elbow, and viciously repressed the natural reaction of seeing a forearm bent in half. She moved slowly, straightening out the limb and allowing the bone to be pulled under the skin.

Tony bucked wildly and screamed. Clint winced as he put more body weight across Tony’s chest. Natasha grimaced and paled slightly. It only took her a few minutes, but as soon as she was done she wrapped the jacket tightly around the wound. Tony fell back exhausted, face now drenched in sweat and breathing harshly. Clint got off his chest, and the billionaire sucked in a huge breath.

“That was…awful…” he whispered.

Clint sighed, patting the other man’s head. “I know man. Believe me. Also you’re going to probably need a sliiiiiight surgery when we get out of here.”

Tony tapped his chest with his good arm. “Hey, that I can handle” he mumbled.

Clint sighed. “I’m so ready for this day to be over.”

Natasha got tiredly to her feet, followed by Clint. Together they helped Tony up, who was trembling slightly. “Don’t go into shock, yet,” she ordered him.

He gave her a pained grin back. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Clint took point again, their pace even slower than before. They descended two more levels and opened the door, shuffling into a service hallway. At the end was an entrance to one of the hotel kitchens. Cautiously, Clint peered inside. It was empty. They made their way in. There was evidence people had left in the middle of something. Pots boiled over on still-burning stove tops, and vegetables and fruit in the middle of being cut were still on counter tops. Clint began moving towards the far side, seemingly not bothered.

“Wait, where is everyone?” Tony breathed.

“Once we call SHIELD and the police, they can find them,” Natasha assured him.

Tony stopped in the middle of the floor. “No.”

Both of the spies paused. “They could have been moved to a different location,” Natasha said. “We don’t have time to look for them.”

Tony moved towards a dry storage room, looking inside. “I just need to make sure.” She didn’t say anything for a moment. But then she let out a sigh. “Alright.” She motioned for Clint to cover the door, and followed Tony. On the way, she grabbed a few vicious-looking kitchen knives, just in case.

As Tony opened another storage room door, Natasha looked past him. She saw the huge door of the industrial refrigerator, the handle hanging slightly by the hinges. She walked over to it, and gave it an experimental tug. It didn’t budge.

“Stark,” she called. He came over, noting the door.

“Hit it here, and here,” he said, pointing to spots first near the handle then near one of the hinges with his good arm. Natasha hefted the axe, before slamming it into the door. A few sparks flew, but she felt something give and the door fell off its top hinges. She pulled it aside as a wave of cold air engulfed her.

There were gasps from inside, and cold, red faces came into her view. She held the door open as Tony used his good hand to help people through the gap between the door and the frame one by one.

“Th-thank you,” one man said, trembling. He spoke Mandarin. “They took our phones! We weren’t in there for that long, but they melted the emergency release button. I d-don’t know how.”

“It’s okay,” Tony assured him tiredly. He too spoke in Mandarin. Natasha wasn’t surprised the modern businessman spoke Chinese, but she was still impressed. “Just take everyone and hide. There are some still around.”

Natasha gripped the man’s arm firmly as he turned to leave. “Ask him where the nearest exit is,” she told Tony. Tony complied, and the man told him, pointing. Tony nodded, thanking him again, before Natasha let go of the man’s arm. She sagged tiredly against a countertop.

“Come on,” Clint encouraged her, noticing her tiredness. “Almost there.”

It could have been a lie, but it was a lie she needed. She nodded, standing up straight and moving behind Clint, Tony tiredly walking behind her.  “They’re going to have the door covered,” she said.

“Yup.”

“They’re going to have all the doors covered,” Tony added.

Clint looked back over his shoulder, smiling grimly. “Yup,” he affirmed.

“So what are you thinking?” Natasha asked as they reached a hallway. A heavy door about 20 feet to their right was marked fire exit.

“We Han Solo ‘em.”

No one said anything for a moment before Tony burst out laughing, and Natasha narrowed her eyes. “What does that mean?”

“Oh my god, you’ve never seen Star Wars?” Tony laughed again, leaning against the wall.

“I know who Han Solo is, and I’m going to attribute your laughter to your impending shock.” She turned back to Clint.

“You and he can stay here,” Clint said pointing to Tony. Then he handed her the gun, and took the axe from her. “I’ll go down there, lure him in, and then you shoot him. Easy-peasy.”

“What if there’s more than one?” Natasha asked, Tony still fighting off giggles behind her.

Clint shrugged. “Chop some heads, I guess.”

Natasha rolled her eyes before pull Tony back to his feet. His giggle was abruptly cut off by a moan of pain.

Clint moved slowly towards the end of the hall. He paused in front of the door, before kicking it open dramatically and yelling “Hey! Could you give us a hand in here?!”

There was a muffled “What?” from outside before Clint shouted again.

“We need help containing Stark! Now get in here!”

Clint backed away from the doorway quickly as the man entered saying “Wait, I thought-”

Natasha didn’t give him a chance to finish as Clint ducked and rolled out of the way, trusting Natasha not to hit him. She fired two bullets into the man’s chest, dropping him to the floor. Clint kicked open the door again, and she grabbed Tony’s good arm and pulled him forward. They emerged from the door into a narrow alley between buildings, and started running.

Suddenly there was a growl from behind them. Natasha turned, seeing the man she had just shot glowing bright orange. She didn’t have time to call out a warning before the Extremis soldier grabbed Clint and flung him into the wall.

Clint gasped as the abuse further damaged his injured ribs, and fell to the ground trembling in pain.

Natasha stepped sideways to dodge a fist glowing with heat. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tony reach for the axe Clint had dropped.  She blocked another fist, the heat from the soldier’s body making the skin on her forearm flare in pain. She gritted her teeth and aimed a kick at his knee at the same time Tony swung the axe at the back of his head. The soldier dropped to one knee and her kick landed on his thigh instead. He grunted, but swung around swiftly, grabbing Tony’s wrist. Tony grunted, but couldn’t hit back with his free hand as that was the broken one. The soldier swung Tony into a dumpster where he crumpled to the ground.

Natasha growled and aimed a punch with her left hand at his face. She dropped her right arm from where it was guarding her face, reaching for his belt. Her fingers closed on his phone right when his fist found her nose.

There was a sickening crack and she flew backwards, the world whiting out for a moment. She felt hot blood stream down from her nose over her lips, pain radiating outward into the bones in her face. She sucked in air through her mouth, trying to regulate the pain, and spout out a mouthful of blood as she did so.

The soldier didn’t realize his phone was missing.

He got to both feet slowly, obviously trying to look menacing.

It didn’t really work on her. After all, she had faced down the Hulk.

Behind him, Clint was trying to get to his feet, and failing. Tony was breathing harshly, turning his head to look at her with wide, worried eyes.

She breathed through the pain, taking a moment to center herself. The soldier grinned at her, and she could see the air shimmer with distortion from his intense body heat.

She sprinted towards him. He faltered, surprised, before he lunged at her. Natasha grabbed his elbow and shoulder, using her momentum to propel her body up and over his form, landing hard and rolling painfully forward. She tossed the phone at Tony who caught it and started to dial a number immediately.  She felt a hand latch around her ankle before she was flying through the air.

Clint looked up just in time to see Natasha hit the pavement hard, unmoving. Distantly, he heard Tony talking to J.A.R.V.I.S., but Clint was just focused on his partner. He shouted nonsense at the Extremis soldier, his ribs and head simultaneously pulsing in pain and adding fuel to his rage.  He pushed himself to his feet, lunging forward.

It was sloppy, and he knew it. An instant later, hot fingers wrapped around his throat, slamming him back down to the pavement. He gasped for air and tried to kick upwards. The soldier dodged, tightening his grip and Clint’s field of vision instantly began to narrow.  An arm suddenly wrapped around the soldier’s shoulders and throat, forcing him backwards and upwards. The grip on Clint’s neck let go as the soldier’s hands flew up to his own throat.

Clint sucked in air, hacking viciously, each cough making his ribs tremble painfully inside his body and bringing tears to his eyes. His savior had been Tony Stark jumping on the soldier’s back, but the billionaire’s rescue was short-lived. The man reached up and grabbed the cloth on Tony’s shoulders, hauling him over and slamming the billionaire onto the pavement. Clint heard and saw Tony’s head bounce off the pavement with a crack. Tony didn’t move.

Clint scrambled for the axe, the sight of his unmoving teammates spurring him on. The man saw what he was trying to do and got there first, kicking the axe out of Clint’s reach. He stood, looming over the archer.

A distant rumble of thunder sounded and Clint smiled.

“Why are you smiling? You’re about to be dead,” the man sneered.

Clint gasped weakly, still smiling. “Oh, you know,” he whispered. “Just thankful…God is on my side…”

The man’s lip curled. “What does God-”

He never finished his sentence as Mjolnir slammed into the side of his head with the sound of metal ringing through the air. He was sent flying across the street into another building.

Clint blinked warily as the hammer flew back in front of him, and then was caught in the outstretched hand of his teammate. Thor kneeled in front of him, smiling. Concern touched his eyes as he leaned forward checking Clint for injuries.

“More agents are on their way,” the Asgardian told him. “Next time, you should call us sooner.”

Clint gave out a bitter, weak laugh before he let himself get pulled into darkness, convinced that he was safe for now.

*AV*AV*AV*AV*

“Ugh, having a concussion sucks,” Tony moaned. Natasha, sitting across the room moaned in agreement. Both of them had slept through the day long ride back to New York from Shanghai. Hopped up on pain killers, they could do nothing but sit in the dim light in the living room.

Clint was there as well, sitting on the floor and leaning on the couch Natasha was lying on. He was nursing six broken ribs (two cracked ones) and tracheal bruising. Natasha was nursing a light concussion plus a few stitches on her forehead from where the bullet had grazed her. Tony had a moderate concussion on top of his broken arm. All three had various first and second degree burns.

Tony had agreed the three of them should come back to his tower after Tony had woken up in the helicarrier medbay. There had been a few minutes when he didn’t know where he was and he freaked out the doctors when he hyperventilated himself into unconsciousness.

Natasha supposed it wasn’t his first panic attack. When he woke up a second time, he had told her in a blasé fashion that the atmosphere up here was too thin, but Clint told her the actual story. Not for the first time, Natasha felt a small pang of regret they hadn’t acted when they did to help Tony earlier.

But they weren’t without their own problems. Clint still had nightmares that more often than not saw him coming into Natasha’s room and sleeping back to back with her just so he could feel the solidity of a person he trusted.

She couldn’t say she minded.                                                                       

As time passed, she was beginning to feel more doubtful about their decisions after New York. It was becoming clear to her now that this sad, little broken group of people now needed each other more than ever. She was also beginning to admit to herself that she might need them.

Thor interrupted her musings by coming into the living room. He had three glasses of ice water held between his forearm and his chest. “My friends,” he said, careful to maintain the volume of his voice at an acceptable level. “I have brought you sustenance to ease your pain.”

“Oh, thank god,” Tony moaned, extending his hand.

“I prefer to be called Thor,” the Asgardian said, grinning. Natasha smiled. She was glad he was beginning to pick up their humor. Thor was a really smart alien. He was also a particularly good caregiver. She took the offered glass of water.

“Thank you, Thor.”

“You are most welcome. Is there anything else you require?”

“Just you, buddy,” Clint said. He patted the couch cushion next to Natasha. Thor looked surprised for a moment, before he sat down. “Thor, what kind of movie do you want to watch? Action? Intrigue? Please don’t say romance.”

Thor smiled broadly at the archer before he leaned forward and started making huge hand gestures. He began talking about his favorite Asgardian tales, and how they were rife with bravery, heroism and adventure. Tony told Jarvis to put on The Fellowship of the Ring, and they all sat back quietly nursing their pains and just enjoying the safety and comfort that each other provided.

This, Natasha thought to herself, I could get used to this.

She smiled.