Loki's invasion with the Chitauri army was the beginning of the Avengers. They came together to protect the planet, united by their common goal.
The Avengers began to fall apart after Hydra's invasion of SHIELD was revealed and resulted in three helicarriers falling from the sky; killing several innocent people. The family of a man called Helmut Zemo was among the casualties, Standing over their dead bodies, he vowed revenge.
Two alien invasions, first Loki and then the dark elves, and other incidents connected to the Avengers eventually made the world demand certain regulations for the group. Regulations which were named The Accords.
Zemo used the opportunity and set off an explosion at a U.N. meeting regarding signing The Accords, killing the Wakandian king and forcing the Winter Soldier out of hiding, pitting Captain America and Iron Man against each other in what he hoped would be a fight to the death. It became the death of The Avengers.
Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton, and Sam Wilson all ended up as fugitives from the law, given sanctuary by the new king of Wakanda; T'Challa. Natasha Romanoff disappeared without a trace, while Tony Stark and James Rhodes were left to send Peter Parker home and rebuild what could hopefully replace The Avengers.
Two months before their civil war, a reporter in San Francisco called Eddie Brock prevented the third alien invasion with the help of an unlikely ally; a very carnivorous and possessive symbiote called Venom. A symbiote whom he now shared a body with.
One day they came home to find Nick Fury in their apartment...
Eddie Brock glanced at his wristwatch, sighing. They had a plane to catch and he had no idea whether it would actually wait for them to arrive before taking off.
The symbiote's voice rumbled inside his head and Eddie shoved his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, thanks for pointing out the obvious.”
It had only been seven months from the time when his life had been turned upside down and the alien symbiote called Venom had moved rent-free into his body. Since then they had put down some basic ground rules, but Eddie knew they were still figuring things out. Along with Venom's diet. So it made absolutely no sense why Nick Fury had decided to send them to Canada.
-I need someone neutral, he'd said.
After Hydra had infiltrated Shield and the Avengers had been disbanded, it seemed like everyone had turned paranoid and Fury had decided to put his trust in someone who had not been involved in the mess.
~We should leave.~
“Hey,” Eddie snapped, “you were the one who said we had to do this.”
Eddie had declared he had more than enough to deal with, thank you very much, he did not need some secret mission to spice up his life. But then Fury had said a name and Eddie had felt Venom's fear.
It was a name Eddie had never heard before and no amount of Googling made him any wiser, but Venom knew of him. The Mad Titan. The one who traveled the universe and decimated half the population of planets in the name of mercy. Even Riot had given him a wide berth.
~We should just get off this planet. Let's leave, Eddie.~
“What? No!” Eddie said. “We saved the world from Riot and Carlton Drake, we can save it again. There's got to be some way to stop this guy and according to Fury; our best hope is here in Vancouver, okay?”
~There he is!~
Making his way down the sidewalk, backpack hanging on one shoulder, appearing merely as one of many out walking that day, Clint Barton was blissfully unaware of being watched.
Instantly recognizing the archer from their previous, rather interesting, meeting, Eddie nodded. “That's him.” He circled one building and then lay in wait for the blond to approach him. Once Clint was close enough, Eddie stepped out to block his way. “Clint, I need to talk to you.”
Clint froze, his eyes scanning him warily. “Eddie Brock... and friend, I guess?”
What appeared to be a small black snake with white eyes emerged between Eddie's neck and his sweater.
Clint nodded. Then he flung his backpack in Eddie's face and made a mad run for it.
Cursing and swatting the backpack away, Eddie felt Venom engulfing his body, triggered by a predatory reaction to prey behavior. “Dammit, I just wanted to talk!”
He allowed Venom to take charge and chase after the archer with the determination of a cheetah and the grace of a rhinoceros.
(Clint Barton was surprisingly quick and agile for a mere human.)
Time and again Venom had him within reach, but Clint constantly managed to dodge and dart away. It was starting to piss both Eddie and Venom off! They didn't have time for this.
Finally, after chasing him for precisely ten minutes, when Barton jumped up to grab a hold of a fire ladder, aiming to get up on the roof, Venom managed to engulf one of his legs with his black liquid. Yanking him off the ladder, ignoring Clint's startled yelp and some people passing by screaming, Venom hoisted him close. Hanging upside down from his left leg, Clint found himself facing a dangerous amount of teeth.
~We're not eating him, remember? We were sent here to make sure he stays alive.~
Grumbling annoyed at Eddie's reminder, Venom still allowed his tongue to reach out and slowly lick Clint's face in what could only be perceived as a threatening gesture.
Clearly disgusted, the blond groped for something in his jacket.
Eddie honestly didn't know whether to laugh or be impressed when Clint pulled out an airhorn and pointed it at them like a defiant child.
“I will use this.” He warned, which would have been more convincing if his face wasn't turning red from the blood pooling in his head and the slight quiver in his voice.
Venom rumbled angrily, not liking the threat one bit, remembering their last meeting, so Eddie pushed a little. ~Let me talk to him.~
~Fine, but if he uses that, he is lunch.~
The blackness peeled back to reveal Eddie's face. “We're not here to hurt you, Clint.”
Frowning and still clutching his airhorn with both hands, the archer didn't seem convinced. “Then what are you doing here?”
“I'm here because two days ago Nick Fury showed up in my apartment and asked for my help. He told me I had to come to Vancouver and find you.”
Clint shook his head, puzzled and probably getting dizzy. “Why?”
“He said you might be the key to saving Earth.”
Two days earlier
The Avengers Compound, USA
Tony Stark nearly had a heart attack when there was an abrupt flash of light and someone he never expected to see again came stalking towards him.
“Where is he?” Loki exclaimed, ignoring how the man was frantically back-paddling away from him. “Where is Barton?”
Tony then found himself backed up against the wall and a far too tall Loki (Had he always been ‘this’ tall?) was hovering over him with a manic look in his eyes. “Not here.” He wouldn’t admit to being afraid, but adrenaline was pumping like crazy and he was uncomfortably aware of all the windows Loki could throw him through. (While not up in a tower, it would still hurt.) “Why are you? Here? I thought you were supposed to be locked up. Or dead. Can’t remember which.”
Loki let out an annoyed scoff.
Now that Tony had a few seconds to gather himself after the shock appearance, he realized the other man was even paler than usual, bruised and… nervous? “Why? What do you want with Barton?”
“He’s coming,” Loki whispered, turning to glance at the window as if he expected to see the heavens open and unleash whatever he was talking about. Spinning back around, Loki glared down at Tony. “Where is Barton?!”
“I don’t know!” Tony exclaimed angrily. “He left with Rogers and the others after the jailbreak. He’s a wanted fugitive now. If I see him, I have to arrest him.”
Loki straightened, exasperated. “All our worlds might come to an end and you petty humans are focused on a stupid squabble?” He closed his eyes for a second, as if reigning in his temper, then focused on Tony again. “Find him. Now.”
“Give me one reason.”
“If not, we all die.”
Huh. That was almost persuasive…
Tony discretely twisted his wrists a little, feeling the bracelets that would trigger the Iron Man suit. “Sorry, tall, dark and, I suppose, handsome, but I'm not buying it.”He was just about to call the suit when Loki's hands wrapped around his wrists faster than what was humanly possible and there was a crunching sound as he bent the bracelets until they shattered and fell to the ground.
Okay, that wasn't good.
But, Tony wouldn't be Tony if he didn't have a back-up plan. He still had some nano-machine prototypes, but he would have to find some way to distract Loki to activate them.
“I don't have time to play with you, Stark.” Loki sneered down at him.
Huh, it was rather fascinating how lovely cheekbones the guy had, even if he was a homicidal maniac. Such a shame, Tony thought regretfully. Why would such beauty have to be wasted on someone like that?
“Are you sure?” Tony replied with his smarmiest smile. “I've been told I have all the best toys.”
“Tell me where Barton is. Now.”
Tony didn't waver. “No.”
Pepper always said his stubbornness was his best trait. Technically she'd said 'least attractive trait', but he knew what she really meant. But thinking about Pepper, how he had messed up that relationship too, hurt and suddenly the imminent threat of being killed by Loki did not seem too bad after all.
“Tell me where he is or we all die.”
“You already said that.”
Loki looked like he wanted nothing more than to wrap his hands around Tony's throat and squeeze, a lot of people had that look in conversations with him when Tony thought about it, but in the end he merely released Tony's wrists with a bitter expression.
Before Tony could activate his suit, Loki's hands moved up to place his palms to his temples and the Asgardian spoke in a deadly smooth voice. “Either you help me, Stark, or this will be your future.”
One moment he was in the Avengers Compound being threatened by Thor's adopted and clinically insane brother, and in the next he was standing on a grassy field. The was a huge battle going on. There were people in unfamiliar uniforms, but Tony felt the air knocked out of his lungs when he realized they were fighting desperately against what was no earthly creatures. While no Chitauri, it was the Chitauri battle all over again. The monsters had arrived on Earth like he'd feared.
Tony could feel his entire body tensing up, his heart racing and it was becoming hard to breathe.
A familiar voice called out something and Tony looked over just in time to see Steve Rogers trying to hold on to Barnes as the Winter Soldier turned to dust. Near them, Natasha fell to her knees, watching her hands turn to dust before the rest of her followed. Sam Wilson's wings fell to the ground as the wind was already scattering his dust. And in front of Tony's eyes, one by one, the rest of the Avengers disappeared as well.
The last one standing was Steve, looking at Tony, grief all over his face. ”Why didn't you stop this, Tony?”
And behind it all, was a large shadow looming over everything.
Unable to breathe, knowing he was dying too, Tony let his knees give in and sank down to sit on the ground.
“Do you understand?” A voice asked, softly, almost gentle.
Slowly realizing he was sitting on the floor in the Compound, Tony still couldn't stop shivering or block out the feeling that his heart was going to explode in his chest at any moment. He forced himself to look up at Loki. “Why do you care?” There was no doubt in his mind that Loki had shown him the truth.
For once the hard and angry expression was gone from the Asgardian's face. Loki's face showed the same fear Tony felt, even regret, and he gave a helpless shrug. “He has my brother.”
Tony struggled to his feet, feeling dizzy and weak, but he forced his mind to work. “I don't know where Barton is.” He made his way over to a desk with unsteady steps. There he opened a drawer and picked up a cell phone. “But there is someone who might know.”
Bucky Barnes absently clenched and unclenched his fist. They were still making adjustments on it, but he had no idea why. It had yet to fail a single command, still Shuri insisted it could be better. He couldn't see how, as it was so finely tuned that he could pick up the tiniest fragment without causing injury and yet crush things into misshapen forms without breaking a sweat.
However, the arm was just a very small part of how Shuri and the others had been able to glue Bucky back to something resembling his old self.
His mind was finally starting to feel like his own.
Sitting outside the hut, watching the sun reflecting in the still water, he was simply enjoying being alive and being quiet. Too much of Bucky's life had been sounds. Gun shots, explosions, screams...
And those damn words. The words spoken in Russian that would make him unable to rebel against what was being asked of him.
Pushing the thoughts of his time with Hydra away, Bucky found much greater joy in watching Steve Rogers approaching.
Returning from his regular morning run, Steve also seemed at peace with his surroundings. Despite the heat and how he probably had sprinted through at least two countries on this continent, the golden boy appeared completely unaffected.
It was hard to believe that the big, muscular man moving like the peak of evolution was his scrawny and sickly Steve.
Bucky remembered when he could fit all of Steve in the embrace of one arm.
Now he'd be amazed if he could make his hands meet if he tried to reach around that torso.
Not that he would try.
Luckily the eyes were the same. Whatever else had changed, Bucky could see his Steve in those eyes and that was enough for him.
“Hey, Buck!” Steve called out, running the final stretch before slowing to a brisk walk that lead him over to where Bucky was sitting. “Everything okay?”
Bucky nodded with a faint smile. Another thing that he would have to get used to; Steve worrying about Bucky's health. It used to be the other way around.
Doing his best not to look while Steve was stretching, Bucky absently wondered if things would have ended up different if he'd had the courage to tell Steve back before the war. While nothing had happened between them, Steve had never objected to a hand lingering on his neck or the hugs that maybe lasted a second or two too long.
But it was too late now.
Now Bucky Barnes was a broken murderer and Steve Rogers was a hero. He'd ruined enough for his old friend.
Snapping himself out of his gloom when it was safe to glance over at Steve again, Bucky tried for a more cheerful tone. “Good run?”
“Yeah.” Steve helped himself to some water from a bottle he'd left there along with his jacket before his run. “The nature here is just... It's beautiful, Buck. You should join me, you know.”
“Can't. I'm still healing,” Bucky replied.
“That excuse won't last forever.”
Bucky grinned. “Then I'll just have to come up with something else.” It was a well known fact between them that Bucky had always hated running. If he was to run, it was either to chase someone or he was being chased by something.
A soft chirruping sound interrupted them and for a moment they both looked equally puzzled, but then Steve started and instantly fumbled for his jacket. He managed to pull out a cell phone, stared at it, then answered the call. “Stark?”
Tony Stark? Bucky sat up a little straighter.
Ever since the reveal of Bucky's guilt in the death of Tony's parents, the divide between Captain America and Iron Man had seemed beyond repair. Why was he calling now?
“Clint?” Steve frowned confused. “No, he's not here. He left a couple of days ago. Why?”
Silence as Bucky guessed Tony spoke.
Whatever was said made Steve shift his weight uneasily. “Tony, I...” He nodded at whatever interruption was made before speaking again. “He didn't say why. He can do whatever he wants, Tony. He doesn't have to answer to me.”
Bucky lifted an eyebrow, wondering what Tony Stark could want from Clint Barton. He'd never gotten the impression that the two were close or that there was anything about Barton that could interest Tony.
“Fine, I'll reach out to him, but we're meeting on neutral ground, or no deal.” Steve's tone gave no room for negotiations. “Ok. Give me a couple of days. I'll contact you.”
Waiting for him to hang up, Bucky couldn't help his curiosity. “What was that all about?”
Steve looked as puzzled as Bucky felt. “No idea.” He let his hand drop and tapped the cell phone absently against his thigh. “He said he needed to talk to Clint. Urgently. It sounded like something serious.”
“You think something is going on? And that's why Clint left?” Bucky had been a little surprised when the blond had announced he was leaving Wakanda for a little while, but he'd said he'd be back and Bucky had believed him. The two had spent a lot of time talking about the things they'd done under the control of others. Clint was among the few who truly knew what that felt like. How it was to scream and fight against something with all your might and still see yourself do it.
“I don't know...” Steve got that line of worry between his brows that Bucky always wanted to banish. “Nat siding with Tony on the Accords threw him for a loop, I think. Hell, even I did not see that one coming. I just thought he needed to work through that alone.”
Bucky got up, unable to just sit passively anymore. “So what are you going to do?”
Steve considered his options then sighed. “I guess I'm going to ask the one person I know who knows where to look for him.”
“Nick Fury. And then?”
“And then I'm going to bring him to Tony, on neutral ground, and find out what is going on.”
This will technically be a stand alone story, but if you want more meat on the bone there are background stories leading up to this one:
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Private jet, somewhere over the Atlantic ocean
It was one of the most bizarre things Tony had ever experienced and considering his track record; that made it pretty damn bizarre! But, here he was, on his private plane, heading for Europe, and sitting opposite of him; Loki.
After the Chitauri invasion and his near death experience, Tony had gone from being a workaholic to something even worse. He'd always had a rickety relationship with sleep, but after the battle in New York it had more or less abandoned him completely. If he slept, he dreamed and he'd wake up bathed in sweat and terror. So he worked instead, worked and worried, and still he wasn't able to outrun his terror.
And now he was looking at the guy responsible for starting it all.
“What?” Loki snapped, finally dragging his gaze away from the window and focusing on Tony.
“You're saying you're doing this to save Thor, but you did try to kill him back in New York.”
Loki scoffed. “No, I didn't.”
“Uh, yeah, you did.” Tony poured himself a whiskey. “You stabbed him, remember? And threw him out of the helicarrier.”
That brought a sullen shrug from the Asgardian. “I've stabbed him plenty times. And it takes more to kill that oaf.”
Staring into the glass for a moment, observing the ripples in the whiskey, Tony glanced up at Loki again. “You killed Coulson.”
That froze Loki for a bit. His face became completely devoid of emotions and it was clear that he was considering his next words carefully. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet and uncomfortably sincere. “I'm not proud of what I did.”
Tony blinked surprised, but Loki merely turned his face to the window again, signaling the conversation was over.
Like hell it was.
Leaning slightly forward, putting the pieces available to him together, Tony rested his elbows on his knees and slowly turned the glass around between both of his hands. “The Infinity stone, the Chitauri army... This Thanos guy sent you here back then, didn't he? That's why you know so much about his plans.”
Loki didn't answer. He merely kept staring out the window.
Which was an answer in and of itself.
But there was also the matter of Loki's reaction when he had spoken Thanos' name.
Tony frowned, curious. “What did he do to you?”
A muscle twitched in Loki's jaw. There was a faint tremor to his next breath. But no reply.
So, Tony thought, the big bad Loki wasn't as devoid of feelings as he'd like them to believe. Interesting.
He leaned back in his seat again and took a gulp from his glass. “You still deserved that Hulk smackdown.”
That made Loki glare over at him again. “I could throw you off this plane, Stark.”
Tony shrugged. “You could, but you need me to get to Barton. Without me, they're not going to listen to you. Also, you know I'm suited up, so I'd probably just arrive in Switzerland before you.”
Loki's upper lip curled with barely repressed anger and he turned back to staring out the window.
Drinking the rest of the whiskey in a single chug, Tony put the glass on the table and glanced out at the clouds as well. He didn't like the silence. It left him with too much room to think.
And he really did not want to think about how he might soon be face to face with Bucky Barnes.
Driving from the airport to the address given to Eddie by Nick Fury, Hawkeye was living up to his name as he was able to take in the beautiful scenery, drive the car and look at Eddie Brock in the passenger seat at the same time.
“So,” he said, sticking his chin slightly forward at Eddie. “How does that work? You and...“ Clint struggled for the right word. Him? That? It? The alien goop?
“Venom.” Eddie replied, before gesturing nervously at the way Clint was slouched forward, resting his crossed arms over the steering wheel and keeping his gaze on Eddie and not on the road. “Shouldn't you be watching where we're going? I'm not paying for the damage if you crash this car.”
Clint shrugged. “Don't worry about it.” He took a turn with barely a glance or lifting his arms. “If Venom eats something, do you taste it? And what is up with that tongue? Where does Venom go when you're not in Venom-mode?”
Black liquid emerged from Eddie's shoulder and took the shape of Venom's face. ”Too many questions, Eddie. Hungry.”
“We are not eating him.”
Clint straightened and took a proper hold of the wheel, suddenly a little nervous. “Hey, I'm just asking. You two were asleep for most of the plane ride down here, remember? You might be hungry, but I'm bored.”
”Let's play How Many Fingers Do You Need To Drive A Car.”
Abruptly motivated to keep his eyes on the road, Clint cleared his throat. “We should be arriving soon. I swear, if Tony is just wasting our time, I'm going to kill him and become a criminal for real.”
Eddie had a thoughtful look on his face. “Think he'll give an interview?”
“Can't hurt to ask him. What the hell, go for it, Brock.”
When they arrived at the address it turned out to be a large and beautiful house at the outskirts of the old city in Bern. The surroundings were quite desolate and made all three of them uncomfortable, considering how they had passed through the hectic city filled with residents and tourists. It was as if people somehow knew to avoid this place.
Clint paused in front of the entrance, turned to scout the area warily, but he couldn't see any signs of danger. Still, unease was flowing in his veins. A part of him was firmly convinced it had been a bad idea to agree to meet with Tony, they hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms, yet he couldn't quite believe that Tony would pull a stunt like this just to arrest Clint Barton. Bucky, maybe, but not Clint. Hawkeye wasn't even a blip on Stark's radar, not worth chasing or setting up a trap for.
So why meet Tony? Because there was always the hope that he had some information about Nat. And that was worth walking into the unknown for.
Clint still didn't understand what had happened back during the mess with The Accords or why she kept avoiding him since she left the Avengers Compound, but he knew it hurt like hell and he needed her back.
Opening the door, Clint went inside the building before he could change his mind. Eddie Brock followed, looking even more nervous, and Venom shrank down to a slight shadow peering over the collar of Eddie's jacket.
Stepping into an empty hallway, they stood in front of massive staircase leading to the next floor, but there were also one door to the left and one to the right. A voice could be heard from the room on the right; it was easy to recognize Tony Stark's voice, but other than that there were no signs of life.
Clint nodded for Eddie to follow him and walked over to open the door on the right.
It was like something out of a bad horror movie. The door opened and there was someone standing in the room, someone very tall and with dark hair, someone who turned around at his entrance and Clint froze at the sight of Loki.
Tony standing half-hidden by Loki and speaking on a cell phone quickly declared he would have to call whomever he was talking to back, but Clint barely registered his presence.
Staring at the one who had hijacked his brain, had forced him to kill innocent people and SHIELD agents, it was like one of his reoccurring nightmares had finally come to life. Loki was back. He wasn't dead or in captivity, but had gotten free somehow and was there to turn Clint into his little puppet again.
Those eyes, that cold smile, Clint couldn't breathe!
“Hello, Barton,” Loki said, in that smooth voice of his, sounding genuinely pleased to see him.
Clint yanked out the combat knife he carried for emergencies and got into a combat position while Eddie turned into Venom.
One touch and Loki would have him under his control again. No. Never again!
The act made Loki's smile widen. “Really? You challenge a god? With that?”
It was strange how a mere minute before this; Clint had been himself but one look at Loki had sent him back to that shattered creature he'd been after the battle for New York.
Everything in him was screaming that he had no chance of killing Loki in close combat, but he couldn't lose his mind again. Never again!
In desperation, Clint flipped the knife in his hand, turning the sharp tip towards himself, but Loki moved before he could do much more than that. There was a hard grip around the wrist of the hand holding the knife, a hand on his opposite shoulder and his back was shoved against the wall of the room.
“None of that.” Loki ordered.
Venom shot forward, growling, but was blocked by Tony in full Iron Man gear aiming his palms at the unfamiliar threat. “Back up, Phantom Blot.”
”We are going to open you like a tin can and rip out your guts.”
“I'd rather you didn't,” Tony replied tersely.
Clint stared rigidly at Loki. He wanted to scream and fight with all his might, rage against the fate of losing himself again, but his body just wouldn't obey. Loki hadn't taken control yet, Clint felt the fear too acutely for that to have happened, but he knew it was only a matter of time.
-I'm sorry, Tasha.
“Enough!” Steve didn't hesitate to rush in between Tony and what he supposed was the new guy; Venom. One hand against Iron Man's chest forced Tony to back up one step, while a firm stare kept the creature of oil and teeth from following.
At the same time, Loki allowed Bucky Barnes to come between him and Barton, backing up with an overly friendly smile. Clint was holding on to the knife so hard his knuckles were white, but he lowered it when Bucky placed a hand over his and added a little pressure.
“Are we late for the party?” Sam said, sauntering into the room, guns in his hands. “We had trouble finding a parking place. Still, kind of rude to start without us.”
“Sam.” Steve warned, not wanting anything to jeopardize the fragile truce in the room.
The living liquid that made up Venom suddenly shifted and withdrew to reveal a very human man underneath it all. A man who was staring at Steve with big eyes. “Oh. Wow. You're really him. You're... Captain America.”
Tony made an 'ech'-sound, lowering his hands and dropped his battle stance as well.
Steve felt the usual awkwardness that followed whenever anybody recognized him. “Yeah. Uh, Steve Rogers. And Nick said your name was Venom?”
“We're Venom,” Eddie said, as if that made sense. “I'm Eddie. Eddie Brock. I'm a reporter.”
Tony made another annoyed sound, but didn't comment further. He'd made a point of not looking at Bucky.
“We appreciate your help, Eddie.” Steve said, knowing better than to judge anyone on their appearance, even if they looked huge, scary and had teeth that a shark would envy.
“You okay?” Bucky asked Clint in a quiet voice. The archer wouldn't take his eyes off the smirking Loki so he gingerly removed the knife from his grasp.
“What's he doing here?!” Clint finally hissed, tense enough to snap at any moment.
“I was wondering that myself.” Steve commented, turning to look at both Tony and Loki. Tony had neglected to mention that he would bring Loki, probably knowing Clint would never have agreed to meet them and that Steve would have come ready for battle. It wouldn't have been the first time where Loki had manipulated someone into doing his dirty deeds.
Opening the helmet on his suit, Tony sighed. “Ok, Loki. Take it away, champ. Tell them what you told me.”
Loki slowly dragged his stare away from Clint, focusing on the others instead. “Asgard is gone.” His voice was flat. “Odin is gone, but his past came back and Asgard fell. We got what was left of our people on ships and fled.” His facial expression was devoid of feeling as well, almost fooling Steve into believing he didn't care, but the eyes couldn't lie. There was pain in those eyes. “Our ships were attacked,” Loki continued, “so we split up in hopes of saving some of us. Thor and I remained to stall them for as long as we could.” He gave a bitter smile. “It wasn't long.”
That was when Steve began to feel the first stirrings of real unease. What could be powerful enough to take out not only Thor, but him and Loki together?
“He thought I still had the Tessaract,” Loki continued, “so he'd come after me. But of course that idiot Thor wouldn't hand me over.” More pain glimmered in his eyes. “Such a fool.” There was a brief pause, as if Loki had to put up his walls again after the memory of what had happened. “His name is Thanos. He's hunting for the Infinity Stones and he won't stop before he has them all. He destroyed an entire planet called Xandar to get the Power Stone.”
“So the Tessaract is one of these stones?” Steve asked.
Tony nodded. “Yeah.”
“But Thor brought that back to Asgard, didn't he?”
Loki smiled a little. “No.”
Steve did not like the sound of that. “No?”
“It was a fake,” Loki said, sounding a little proud, but it didn't last long and was replaced with what looked like guilt. “Thanos thought I still had it.”
Sam crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “Do you?”
“No. I hid it before the Chitauri arrived.” Loki slid his gaze back to the unusually quiet Clint Barton.
Cursing himself for not bringing his beloved notepad, Eddie tried to remember all of these names and facts. This could potentially end up as a Pulitzer article.
~Unless Thanos kills us all.~
Whispering, careful not to interrupt the conversation, Eddie replied; “We got Captain America here. No way we're gonna loose.”
“You hid it?” Sam drawled. “Where?”
Loki stepped closer to Clint, making the archer flinch against the wall and Bucky lift his gun in a warning gesture, but he merely reached out to let his fingers hover nearby Clint's left temple.
“Holy shit,” Eddie breathed as he saw the blue glow emerge from the eyes of a seemingly paralyzed Clint.
~We should have bit his head off back then, Eddie. Saved us a lot of problems.~
Loki let his hand drop and the glow faded again. Only when it was completely gone did Clint shake his head and was able to move again, yet he remained mostly still and silent. Numb.
“How many of these stones are there?” Eddie asked, his curiosity stronger than his common sense as usual.
“Six.” Loki replied. “And he already has two, possibly three.”
“What happens when he has all six?” Steve wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer to his own question.
“Bad things,” Tony said quietly.
“Who is this Thanos dude?” Sam asked as he straightened, sounding a little frustrated.
“They call him the Mad Titan.” Loki nodded towards Eddie. “Ask your Klyntar.”
Eddie hesitated, uncomfortable with everyone's eyes on him. “My... what?”
Venom emerged from his shoulder, its black head and eternal grin hovering by Eddie's own face. ”We suggest building a new ship and leaving the planet.”
Sam stared with a slightly congested look at the sight of Venom appearing like that, mumbling a soft; “What the fu...?”
“So what do we do?” Steve asked, before shaking his head a little. “Except run away.”
“He suspects I have the Space stone so he will come after me. He doesn't know about Barton. As long as he doesn't get all six stones, we might have a chance. It's abysmally small, but a chance nonetheless. Thanos will use Thor to force me into handing over the stone, that will be our moment, but only if you keep Barton safe and out of sight.” Loki managed a faint smile. “I guess this makes us allies?”
“What do you say, Clint?” Bucky asked, keeping his voice gentle and non-threatening.
“Do I have any choice?” Clint ground out between gritted teeth. He lifted his gaze to stare at Loki with nothing but seething hatred.
“Yeah, but, can't we take it out and hide it some place instead?” Eddie wondered out loud.
“Barton is a no one. Thanos doesn't even know he exists. Nobody will look for it there, and even if they did; only I know where it is located inside his mind. It is the safest option.”
Bucky frowned. “Can't we destroy it?”
“Maybe, if we had Thor and Mjølnir, but the power needed is a particular kind and much stronger than anything you have here on this planet.” Loki explained. “Believe me, Thanos is coming and he will bring destruction either way. If you want to at least try to save this miserable planet, keep Barton out of sight and prepare for a battle you probably can't win.”
“Nice pep-talk,” Sam muttered.
“There is at least one more Infinity stone on Earth,” Loki continued as if he didn't hear him. “I will talk to the Sorcerer Supreme.”
“We will talk to the wonderful wizard of Oz.” Tony shot in.
Steve slowly glanced over to the left as something wet was sliding up the side of his neck and was somewhat unprepared to see an unnaturally long tongue tasting him.
“Hey!” Eddie slapped the back of Venom's neck, making the tongue disappear behind the teeth again and the darkness withdrew to pool on his shoulder with a soft hiss. “Sorry,” Eddie tried for an apologetic smile. “He does that.”
Steve didn't quite know what to say, but he did notice Bucky struggling not to laugh and that made it kinda worth it.
Night was falling by the time they had agreed on what to do.
Loki and Tony left, heading back to the airport to return to New York and speak with this... wizard.
The rest of them decided to spend the night in the house before contacting T'Challa the next morning to include him and more or less ask for his protection.
Steve glanced up from where he was sitting on the bed when the door to the bedroom opened and the unease from what he'd learned that day eased a little at the mere sight of Bucky. “How is he doing?”
Clint had not relaxed for one second as long as Loki had been in the house and even after he'd left with Tony; the blond was still nervous and angry. Steve didn't blame him.
“Too quiet, but he's hanging in there.” Bucky wandered over to the other bed and sat down on it with a weary sigh.
Steve had not been happy when Bucky had insisted on joining him and Sam on the journey. There were too many eyes looking for the Winter Soldier and while Shuri's work had done wonders to restore his old friend; Steve suspected he shouldn't be exposed to more trauma. It would have been better if Bucky had stayed back in Wakanda; safe.
“What do you think of our new friend?” Steve asked with a faint smile.
The question had the desired effect. Bucky huffed faint laugh and glanced up at him with a mischievous glimmer in his eyes. “I'm guessing he's not the first fan to drool on you?”
Steve laughed a little as well. “That's not...” He cleared his throat. “The most important thing is that he's here to help. He's on our side and we're going to need all the help we can get.”
The cheerfulness left Bucky's face and was replaced with wary contemplation. “Do you really think we can trust Loki?”
“No.” Steve didn't hesitate. “But I trust Tony.”
Bucky nodded, shifting to look at the floor instead, and Steve knew he was once again replaying the death of Tony's parents in his head.
For the duration of Tony's stay in the house, he'd not looked at Bucky once. Not one single time. Or acknowledged his presence at all.
“You should get some rest.” Steve said.
“As long as you don't start snoring again.”
“I don't snore.”
“Uhm, yes, you do. I should know.” Bucky sounded deadly serious. “Maybe I should have bunked with Sam instead...”
Sam had been the first to run to the top floor, claiming the master bedroom there for himself and left the other four to share two other rooms. “Dibs!”
But the notion of those two sharing a room without fighting for at least seven hours was laughable.
However, Steve discovered that Bucky's concern for his snoring had been unfounded as there was no way he was going to fall asleep. Every time Steve closed his eyes, a thousand things ran through his brain.
After what felt like a small eternity, he rolled over on his side and looked over at the shape on the bed a small distance away.
Bucky appeared asleep, also lying on his side and facing Steve. The dim light made his features seem softer, more peaceful, and his dark hair was fanned out on the pillow.
These were the moments when he saw the echo of the Bucky from before Hydra's torture and brainwashing. It reminded him of all the times he'd watched Bucky sleep before the war and the serum and how he had dared to hope back then.
That Bucky had been adventurous, funny and kind. This Bucky was weighed down by acts he'd performed against his will, he was weary and hardened, a little lost, but despite all odds; still kind.
Steve smiled a little in the darkness, pathetically grateful that he still had Buck. The loss of Peggy was still so fresh, so painful, and he doubted it would ever go away, but at least he still had Bucky.
A strange urge to reach out and touch his face came over Steve so he bunched up both of his hands into fists to make sure he didn't fall for the temptation.
Bucky was just piecing his life together after escaping the clutches of Hydra. He didn't need more complications. He needed a friend.
Sighing, Steve rolled over in his bed, turning his back to the other man and stared at the wall instead. He still didn't sleep.
Novi Grad, Sokovia
A young and ambitious man handed a bunch of photographs to an older man. “You were right, Sir. They did meet up.”
The older man snatched the pictures from him, looking at one after another. “Of course they did.” He paused at one picture. “Who is this?”
“That is Eddie Brock.” The younger man pulled up a blurry picture on a computer next to them. “We believe that is the one who was involved in the incident in San Francisco.”
Leaning down to peer at the computer image, barely able to make out the shape of a massive creature with a lolling tongue and plenty of teeth mid-climb on the Life Foundation rocket, but the older man gave a predatory smile. “Oh, that is interesting.”
“Bring me Eddie Brock.”
And as the younger man darted off to deliver his orders, Wolfgang von Strucker looked at his other science projects and could hardly wait to get his hands on a new one. He picked up the picture of Eddie Brock walking up the stairs of a house, next to Clint Barton for some reason, and fastened it on his work board. “Hail Hydra,” he mumbled softly, bathed in the glow from the Mind Stone.
This will technically be a stand alone story, but if you want more meat on the bone there are background stories leading up to this one:
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Venom wants chocolate and T'Challa has to ask for help in an unlikely place
After a night of barely any sleep and constant dread, it was safe to say that Clint was not in the best of moods. While Steve was on the second floor and speaking on the phone with T'Challa, the archer had settled himself defiantly in the very room he'd faced Loki in the day before.
Bucky was off somewhere, Sam had declared he was going to prepare the Quinjet, but Eddie Brock had decided to hang out in the same room as Clint in an unsuccessful attempt at discrete hovering. Probably to make sure Clint didn't run off, or something.
Which was how they ended up with Clint in one fancy armchair, tossing M&Ms into his mouth as if he was chewing the skulls of his enemies instead of chocolate, and with Eddie in the sofa by the window a small distance away, happy scribbling away in a notebook he'd found in the bedroom and dreaming about his Pulitzer prize.
Other than Clint's loud chewing and pen against paper, there hadn't been any other sound in the room for quite a while.
Clint wasn't even sure how long they had been sitting there but he suddenly became aware of movement. Behind Eddie's neck, something black was staring at him.
Clint stared back, too wound up to even consider if that could be a bad idea, but Venom didn't seem like it wanted to pick a fight. (Unfortunately.) No, it wasn't even focused on Clint.
Slowly sticking his hand into the bag, Clint noted how Venom watched his every move, from how he plucked up a piece of candy to when he plopped it into his mouth and chewed it.
He did it again and the same thing happened.
Before Clint could actually consider his actions, he picked a blue M&M and tossed it with deadly accuracy at Venom, who caught it within the blink of an eye.
Hearing the chomp, Eddie lifted his gaze from the notebook, but Venom was quicker and withdrew behind his neck again. Looking around and seeing nothing and merely getting a blank look from Clint, Eddie went back to his writing.
Two seconds later, Clint threw another and Venom caught it gleefully.
“Am I going to have to place you two in separate rooms?” Eddie asked, not taking his eyes off his work.
”We like this one, Eddie.”
Snorting a laugh, Eddie shook his head and reached up to place his hand on the symbiote's head. It was an affectionate gesture.
Clint frowned thoughtfully. Huh. He got up and sauntered over to perch on the backrest of the loveseat next to Eddie, absently throwing a couple of M&Ms into his mouth and a couple in Venom's direction. “Some free advise in addition to the chocolate; don't get involved in this, Eddie.”
“Sounded to me like you could use some help.”
“You seem like a nice guy, Eddie, so I'm warning you; don't get involved.” Clint held his gaze firmly. “The last time Loki was here, he turned me into his little puppet. He made me do things... He made me kill innocent people, people who were just trying to do their jobs, who did nothing wrong. He took my brain and he played with it.”
Eddie digested what he'd just been told, then he shook his head a little. “When this guy decided he wanted to move into my body and stay, uninvited, it wasn't exactly smooth sailing for me either.”
”True. You were very uncooperative, Eddie. Nearly got us killed.”
Eddie leaned slightly away so he could send the hovering Venom-head a disbelieving look. “Seriously? You made me bite the heads off people!” He then straightened and focused on Clint again. “Anyway, my point is, sometimes shitty stuff happens so good stuff can happen later, you know?”
“No. I don't know.” Nothing was good in Clint's life lately.
“You will.” Eddie grinned briefly before returning his attention to the notebook again. “Oh, and I'd put that away, if I were you.”
Clint frowned confused. “Put what away?” But then his keen eyesight connected the bag of M&Ms in his hand to Venom fixating on it again and realization hit just as the tongue unfolded from that frankly frightening mouth. “No. Mine.”
And that was how Steve Rogers came in the room to find Clint's legs kicking wildly in the air from behind the sofa, cursing and fighting against a large, black shape with its tongue coiled around the wrist of the hand holding on to the bag with chocolates. Eddie himself, connected to the symbiote from his upper back, was ignoring the spectacle and still working on his notes.
“I, uh, spoke to T'Challa,” Steve began, having to raise his voice to be heard.
Clint stopped flailing and paused to peek up from behind the sofa. Venom stopped, almost successful in getting the bag, Clint's hand included, into its mouth. Eddie stopped taking notes and glanced over.
Steve cleared his throat, trying to pretend this was not a sight that puzzled him in the least. “Yeah, I spoke to him and he kindly agreed to help us out. Sam's getting the jet ready. Eddie, Venom, you guys still want to come?”
Eddie waved his notebook a little. “Definitely. This story is just getting started.”
Venom's reply was yanking Clint's hand into its mouth, taking almost as much delight in the blond freaking out as the candy itself.
“Oh, God, that is wet. Teeth! TEETH!”
Private jet, approaching New York
“If this Thanos guy is as bad as you say he is, how can you be so sure that Thor is still alive?” Tony asked.
Loki sent a sour smile. “Oh, he's alive. He's alive because Thanos needs him to get to me.”
“At least that means we don't have to worry about him killing him.”
“He won't kill him,” Loki said, “but he will certainly hurt him.”
Unsettled by the words, Tony wasn't sure who he was talking to, Loki or himself, when he said; “Yeah, but Thor is really strong, so...”
This time, when Loki looked over at him, there was a sharp knowledge in his eyes. “Everyone can be broken. Everyone has a breaking point. Everyone. Anyone who claims differently is lying.”
“We do what we got to do to survive.” Tony replied, remembering his own experience in those caves. He still had occasional nightmares about being held under water.
Suddenly remembering what he'd seen on the surveillance videos he had pulled from the old SHIELD archives about Loki's arrival on Earth, the state that Loki had been in back then, Tony would confidently put money on Loki being sent here by Thanos back then and not voluntarily.
“But Thanos picked the wrong planet to mess with this time.”
Loki shook his head with the ghost of a bitter laugh. “You have no idea what he's capable of.”
“You shouldn't underestimate us humans. We stopped you, didn't we?”
This time, Loki's smile sent a shiver down Tony's spine. “What makes you think I was really trying?”
After the plane had landed, Tony lead Loki to where he'd parked the car and the two set off towards the New York Sanctum where they would find this... wizard. (Gods and Titans and Wizards, oh my.)
“How can you be so sure this Harry Potter guy will help us?”
“His name is Strange. And I'm not sure.”
“Harry Potter isn't strange.” Tony maneuvered through traffic. “I like those books.”
Sighing, Loki gave up on understanding Tony Stark's ramblings. “The Sorcerer is Earth's protector from inter-dimensional threats. We need him and his magic.”
“Why, when we got you and your magic?”
“Because I don't have an Infinity stone.”
Arriving at their destination, Tony's unease increased even further when Loki insisted on him entering the building first.
Digging his heels in by the door, glaring back at the Asgardian, Tony wouldn't budge. “Why do I have to go first? This is your thing.”
Loki made some dismissive gesture with his hands. “The last time I met him, I was falling for thirty bloody minutes before he deigned to let me out. Rather you than me, Stark.” And promptly shoved him towards the door.
Just as Tony was about to make a personal meeting with the door, it opened and a dark haired man with a freaking cloak was glaring at them.
“Loki,” the man said, “I thought you brother guaranteed I wouldn't see you again?”
Loki put on a snake-like smile, grabbing the back of Tony's shirt to prevent him from faceplanting against the wizard's chest. “Trust me, nothing would make me happier than for our roads to never have crossed again, Strange, but needs dictate that I acquire your help.”
“I'm...” Tony began, only to be cut off by that caped crusader.
“Yes, I know who you are, Tony Stark.” The guy then proceeded to ignore Tony, which was quite difficult for him to believe really, and kept his focus on Loki. “My help? Specify.”
Not used to being on the sideline and not comfortable with this new experience, Tony crossed his arms and settled to glare at them both.
“Thanos is gathering the Infinity stones. He will be coming for yours soon.”
The wizard considered the words for a long while, then he opened the door further and stepped back. “You got ten minutes. I was about to go out for lunch.”
Bucky glanced in the wing mirror of the passenger seat where he was sitting and frowned a little while studying Eddie Brock in the car behind them. “How do you think that works? They're two separate individuals, right? But sharing one body?”
“That's how I understand it, yes,” Steve replied, making sure to keep his eyes on the road and respecting the speed limit. They were heading back to where the Quinjet and Sam were waiting for them so they could head back to the safety of Wakanda. The last thing he needed was something stupid like a traffic offense to unnecessarily complicate things, despite Clint's offer that they could have a race to the landing site.
“So, does that make Venom a talking parasite? Or, maybe more like a pet?” Bucky really wished he could erase Sam's outburst of 'Dude, they're boning.', but it seemed to have burned itself into his brain. “Or... you know.”
Steve shook his head. “Buck. To be honest, I'm too afraid to even think it.”
They both laughed a little at that.
A second glance into the wing mirror revealed that Eddie and Clint were now discussing something that included a lot of hand movements and Bucky felt a flicker of relief that Clint had insisted on driving his rental instead of having it picked up at the house. It was nice, this; just him and Steve.
Sneaking a look over at the blond next to him, Bucky savored how the mere sight of him made him feel calm and at peace. He'd had so little peace for years and years in Hydra's service. But then he'd always known his place was with Steve. Until the end of the line, right?
“What?” Steve asked.
Bucky shifted to stare out the front window instead. He kept forgetting how damn observant Steve had become. “I was just wondering if old age might catch up to us after all if you're going to keep this speed. Sam might just decide to leave us.”
“I didn't bring my passport and as far as I know; you don't even have one, so we don't want to get pulled over by the cops for speeding, do we?”
Bucky struggled against a smile. “Okay, dad.”
Steve grinned against his will, trying to act offended and failing. “You know, I've...”
A loud crash interrupted whatever he was going to say. Bucky twisted around in his seat just in time to see that what looked like a military truck had rammed into the side of Clint's car before both the truck and Clint's car disappeared over the edge of the road and down the sloped hill they were driving alongside of, leaving only a trail of parts and quickly disappearing smoke in their wake.
Steve instantly stepped on the breaks and while it didn't take too many seconds for the car to stop, Bucky had already grabbed his weapon and was stepping out of the vehicle while it was still moving. He was almost where Clint's car had been rammed off the road when instincts warned him and luck prevented him from being hit by the soldiers popping up from the opposite side of the road and began firing at him.
Diving into the ditch, Bucky counted to three before he straightened and began firing back.
The soldiers attacking them had dark uniforms, plain, but it still reeked of Hydra to him.
Out of the corner of his eye, Bucky saw Steve sprinting towards the soldiers, who luckily had their sight set on the Winter Soldier and he made sure they kept watching him.
Launching a couple of grenades at the enemy, Bucky knew it was unlikely he'd hit them but it would keep their heads down and Steve hidden.
Seconds later, the soldiers began flying like pins hit by a bowling ball and Bucky got up from the ditch, ejecting spent shells and reloading while Steve finished up the last two souls unfortunate enough to be in his way.
He didn't stick around to watch Captain America clean the table, but continued towards the tracks the cars had left behind. Bucky had taken one step off the road, about to peek down the slope, when a bullet flew close enough to brush by his hair.
Cursing, he pulled back a little. Whomever had been in the truck that had hit the car was still alive. That meant there was a good chance Clint and Eddie were too. It was just a matter of getting to them and keeping them that way.
Bucky dared a quick peek down the hill, seeing three soldiers standing next to the shattered and smoking vehicles and no sign of Clint nor Eddie; he lifted the gun and fired blindly down at where he calculated he'd hit the enemy and not the car.
There was a cry of pain, maybe two, and when he dared another peek; he found two soldiers down and the third one gone.
Someone crouched down next to Bucky and he didn't need to look to know it was Steve.
“What's the situation, Buck?”
“Unknown amount of hostiles. With guns. The car is down there, but no sign of Clint or Eddie.”
A sound caught Bucky's attention and he tilted his head slightly. An engine.
“Sam's on his way,” Steve said.
“He might be too late,” Bucky stated, getting up. He watched as a powerful off-road car sped along the uneven terrain and away from the two wrecked vehicles.
Steve got up as well, seeing the same thing, but deciding to make his way down to Clint's car anyway. Steve was always the hopeful one. Sighing and keeping the gun ready, Bucky made his way down as well.
He was not surprised when Steve found the car empty, but his gaze did linger on the blood inside it. If they were alive, at least one of them was hurt. He turned and studied one of the fallen soldiers, knowing they were the only lead they had to finding Clint and Eddie again.
In an underground jail-cell, a man glanced up at the sound of footsteps approaching.
“Is it Sunday already?”
T'Challa came to a halt in front of the cell, hands behind his back and a thoughtful look on his face. He was not entirely comfortable with what he was seeing.
T'Challa had made sure he'd serve his imprisonment here, but the man had been eating less and less since his capture. He was being devoured from the inside by his grief yet appeared strangely content with it. Zemo had been thin when he arrived in Wakanda, but now he was approaching gaunt.
“No,” T'Challa eventually answered. “It is not Sunday, but I expect you know that.”
Zemo smiled a little, shrugging.
As always, he wasn't very forthcoming, still set on his wish of being reunited with his family and interested in little else, especially having a conversation with the man keeping him alive against his will.
The cell had a bed, a toilet, a desk and a chair, but no windows or any form for entertainment other than some paper to write on and an occasional book. Zemo had asked for nothing.
“I am here to ask you to do something for me.” T'Challa said.
That actually surprised Zemo enough to make him blink and glance up at him from where he was sitting on the bed. “Excuse me?” There was genuine disbelief in his hoarse voice.
T'Challa forced himself to keep his regal stance up and the emotion out of his voice. He might not want to avenge his father with Zemo's blood, but that didn't mean he was comfortable talking to his father's killer. He made himself look at the man every Sunday, remind him of his sins and look for any signs of regret, but the very sight of him kept reminding him of what he'd lost.
“One hour ago, two very important people were kidnapped in Switzerland. Two of the kidnappers were from Sokovia. I want you to tell me if you knew them and who they could be connected with, as well as any possible location these people can have been taken to.”
Zemo leaned back against the wall, sighing wearily. “Any information I had is outdated.”
“Yes, but you can find out.”
Considering it for a moment, Zemo got up and walked over to stand in front of T'Challa. His eyes were as dead as his soul. “That would require you to let me out of here.”
T'Challa tensed up. “I am aware.” Some contacts would probably not speak without seeing Zemo himself.
“And you will do this?”
“Will you bring me the information I need?”
Zemo did not waver. “I will bring you what information I can find.”
T'Challa studied him, trying to read his father's killer's mind but failing. “Do not mistake this as freedom. You will not roam free, and once I have what I need, you will be brought back here.”
“I know.” Zemo's voice was devoid of feeling.
“And any attempt at escape will be futile.”
T'Challa shook his head a little. “Then why? Why do this?” Truth be told, he hadn't expected Zemo to agree.
“I took your father from you.” Zemo said. “I made you feel my pain when you had done nothing to me. I would like to do something for you so I can face my family when I meet them again.”
Unsettled, T'Challa nodded. “Very well.” He took a step away. “I will make the necessary arrangements.”
As the king of Wakanda walked away, he hoped he hadn't just made a terrible mistake.
An off-road car, Unknown
The world shuddered and shook as the car rumbled on. Clint was aware of the sound of the engine, a low conversation between unfamiliar voices and the drip-drip of his own blood as it fell.
His hands were tied together behind his back, his ankles were tied as well and there was something over his head preventing him from seeing anything of his surroundings. His head was aching beyond belief.
The last thing Clint remembered was talking to Eddie about Wakanda when Eddie had suddenly turned into Venom. It was both amazing and terrifying to see how Eddie went from human to this massive creature that barely fit inside the car, but Clint had felt nothing but fear when black substance had shot out and yanked him towards it. Venom had wrapped itself around him like a tidal wave and for a moment; Clint couldn't breathe. Then there had been a loud crash, everything went spinning, gravity decided to disappear at random moments, until there was a sudden stop and a lot of pain.
What the hell had happened? Where were they taking him?
A low groan next to him made Clint realize they had brought Eddie too and had to rephrase his question: Where were they taking them?
This will technically be a stand alone story, but if you want more meat on the bone there are background stories leading up to this one:
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Clint and Eddie meet Baron Von Strucker.
Tony finally finds a way to shut Loki up.
Brief note for the ones who has not read my Guardians fic; remember the guy who said "What a bunch of A-holes." in the movie? Yeah, that guy, that's Saal. Ok? Right. Carry on!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
New York, USA
Once Wong had explained the importance of the Infinity stones, both Tony and Stephen Strange realized why Loki was so desperate to keep Thanos from gathering them all.
“As long as I have the Eye, Thanos won't be able to harness their full power.” Stephen touched the amulet he was carrying.
“Each stone he collects makes him stronger. If yours is the only one left, you will not be able to stop him with the other five stones at his command. We need to keep as many from him as possible.” Loki explained.
“You say he has at least two stones already?” Wong asked.
“At least.” Loki confirmed. “No one knows where the Soul stone is so I can't say whether he might have gotten his hands on that as well.”
Stephen frowned thoughtfully. “So how do we fight him.”
Loki breathed a laugh, amused at the notion. “You don't.” He made a point of looking from Stephen to Tony to Stephen again as he spoke. “We know he's coming. That's our advantage. It gives us time to run. Hide. Find some distant and desolate corner of the universe and pray he doesn't find us.”
Tony blinked surprised.
Stephen scoffed. “I'm not going to run. I am Earth's protector. If what you're saying is true, then I'm needed here.”
Loki looked at him like Strange was a complete idiot. “You can't fight him, you stupid, little man.” He took a step forward to glare down at him, ignoring the agitated flapping of the red cape. “If you go up against Thanos, you will end up as a pile of dust, Strange.”
If not for the unsettling feeling that Loki might be right, Tony would've asked for a bucket of popcorn. He was about to try his hand at some diplomacy before the magical twins began dueling when there was a chirping sound. Steve Rogers was calling him.
Five minutes later, Tony had informed the others of what had happened in Switzerland and Loki was furious! Pacing back and forth, the Asgardian was ranting and raging.
“You lot had one job! One! Keep Barton safe! How difficult could that be? Why the hell do I even bother working with you if you can't even manage one simple task?”
Tony tried to use logic amidst wizards and aliens. “It doesn't make sense. How would they even know about Clint and the stone already?”
“Clearly someone among you either can't keep their mouths shut or there is a traitor in your midst!” Loki stopped to hover over Tony now. “I should never have told you about the stone. I should have merely brought Barton to safety myself.”
“Yeah, no, I doubt he'd go anywhere with you,” Tony said. “It didn't work out too well for him the last time you two went on a honeymoon together.”
“It wouldn't have been a request.” Loki countered in a cold voice.
“Gentlemen,” Stephen said, interrupting before the gloves came off and the hair-pulling began. “What matters now is what we decide to do. I need to do some research. I suggest you two head back to wherever you said your friends are gathering and reclaim the one with the stone. I will contact you once I have a plan.”
“Who put you in charge?” Tony asked, just as Loki said; “I told you; you can't fight him!” And a portal opened under their feet.
Falling, Tony had just enough time to feel afraid before there was a flash of light and the ground came up mighty fast to greet him. Instinct made him reach his hands out and that saved him from a possible broken nose when he landed hard, on his belly, at the entrance of the Avengers Compound.
Loki landed in a crouch next to him, clearly this wasn't the first time this had happened to him, but he looked even more furious. “That arrogant jester! Who does he think he is!”
Tony sat up, brushing dust off his shirt and corrected his sunglasses. “I'm starting to think that using magic turns everyone into a dick.” He then started as he realized something. “My car!”
Rolling his eyes, Loki straightened. “Let's go.”
Tony got up, brushing off his knees as well, making a mental note to have Happy fetch his car. “What happened to not wanting to work with us mere mortals?”
“I will have a word with your allies. They may have some clue as to where I can find Barton. After that, who knows.”
Tony was getting mighty sick and tired of being dragged around the world, spending hours on a plane with Loki sulking for the majority of the time and not really getting anything done. If not for the fact that he truly believed Loki was trying to save Thor and had warned them about Thanos, Tony would have left that tall drink of water to sulk alone. No matter how gorgeous he was! “Fine. Let's just go.”
Novi Grad, Sokovia
“Time to wake up, Agent Barton.”
The voice brought Clint out of the darkness. With a weak groan Clint squirmed a little. His head was aching like crazy and there was the taste of blood in his mouth. He was also soon aware of something restraining his wrists and ankles.
Opening his eyes, blinking until his blurry vision cleared, Clint found himself staring down at his boots. There were wide leather-straps around his ankles, securing him to what felt like a metal chair. He was in a dark room, surrounded by computers and what looked like surgical equipment. Clenching and opening his hands, weakly trying to move them, confirmed they had the same restraining straps on them. A light pressure across his stomach and chest hinted at more straps there.
A wave of nausea swept over him and Clint was mostly tempted to merely fall asleep again.
“You took a nasty hit to the head, Agent Barton. We stitched you up as best we could, but I'm afraid we can't do anything about what is most likely a concussion.” The voice continued.
Forcing his eyes to remain open, Clint summoned whatever strength he had and lifted his head to look at his captor. His heart sank when he found himself face to face with one of Hydra's top dogs.
Baron Von Strucker smiled a little.
How the hell had Hydra discovered that Clint had become Loki's personal hiding place for his fancy space jewelery? Even Clint hadn't known until recently.
“Lind was always obsessed with the idea that you had some knowledge about or been affected in some way by Loki. He believed the key to greater power lay within you, Agent Barton.” Strucker clicked his tongue thoughtfully. “I disagreed.” He moved over to a computer next to the chair and looked at what appeared to be Clint's vital signs. “But when I was informed that you had ended up in the net along with the subject, why not exploit the chance to discover if the influence from the scepter changed you in any way. You were among the first exposed to it, after all.”
Clint tried to make sense out of what the man was saying, but thinking was like trying to run through molasses. His head was hurting so bad, trying to stitch thoughts together was incredibly difficult, but something inside him was screaming how important it was that he try.
What he managed to piece together was the fact that he'd not been the main target. The subject? What subject? The only one in the car with him was...
A discrete scan of the room, as much as he could without actually turning his head, revealed it to be empty except for the two of them.
Licking his lips, trying to keep himself from throwing up, Clint managed to rasp a few words. “Glad to be of assistance.” He tried and failed at a smile of his own. “It might get lonely for me though.”
“I'm afraid Eddie Brock gets a room of his own.” Strucker sounded far too pleased with himself. “His condition is quite... unique.”
They were after Venom then. Not good. Clint had been at the receiving end of Hydra's efforts at doing research and it was not pleasant at all. He hoped Venom ate them all.
But considering they knew of the symbiote and had gone to such lengths to acquire it, that told Clint that they could also possibly know how to incapacitate it.
“I will give you some time to recover, Agent Barton.” Strucker managed to sound magnanimous instead of the creepy kidnapper he was. “I need to make sure you are fully awake for my tests.”
Clint tried to free his hands again, but it was a weak move and made the entire room swim before his eyes. His head was aching so much... He knew he needed to get out of there, needed to find Eddie, but he was so tired. So very, very tired.
At the hands of Lind, he'd been exposed to what had felt like endless pain, but Clint had firmly believed that SHIELD would get to him and free him from the nightmare. He'd been right. In Siberia, in the middle of nowhere, his angel of death had arrived and Nat had saved him from the hands of Hydra.
Her absence in his life hurt more than any physical pain. He hoped that wherever she was, she was safe.
Clint closed his eyes and moments later his body slumped as he fell unconscious again.
To say that Shuri had been upset about T'Challa's decision to let their father's killer out of his cell and bring him on a trip to Italy to meet with a Sokovian officer he had named would be the understatement of the year.
Still, as much as she yelled at her brother, Shuri respected her king's wish and equipped Zemo with tracking and restraining technology.
Two vibranium bracelets went around each of his wrists and finally she placed one around his neck.
“A collar for the king's dog,” Shuri stated, making little effort to hide the anger in her eyes.
Zemo had merely remained silent, showing no indication of reacting to her words or her distaste of him, passively allowing her to lift his hands to place the bracelets and not even flinching when the collar snapped shut dangerously close to his throat.
On the plane ride to Italy, Zemo had been placed in the back corner of the cabin and had remained there. He had not uttered a single word and refused the food offered to him.
Okoye had not said much either, but her glares spoke volumes and T'Challa wondered briefly it had been a good idea to agree to her coming along after all. Then again, if he had tried to refuse, he suspected she would have knocked him out and come anyway.
Zemo finally spoke once they had left the airport and was heading into the heart of the big city in a beautiful rental car. He instructed them to drop him off at Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, where this officer was working under a secret identity.
“I need to speak with him alone.”
Okoye scoffed, but T'Challa considered it before replying. “You won't be able to remove those trackers. There is no way to escape and it would be foolish of you to try.”
Zemo was staring out the window, but with a distant look in his eyes. “He will not talk to me if I'm not alone.”
The way he spoke without any feeling was starting to unsettle T'Challa for real. It was like talking to a ghost! “We will wait for you in the car. The tracker will let us know when you leave the Basilica.”
T'Challa chose to ignore Okoye's disbelieving stare and how she shook her head in angry resignation. He couldn't explain to her why he believed the man would keep his word, but his instincts told him that Zemo would indeed lead them to Barton and this Brock. It was once that target was achieved that he had no idea what his father's killer would do.
Once Zemo had left the car, they circled for quite a while before they were able to find a place to park and wait.
Minutes felt like hours. Okoye was staring at the tracker screen, clearly hoping the dot would make a run for it and give her the excuse she needed to track him down and do what her king could not; end Zemo's life, but no such luck.
Still, the wait was just long enough for T'Challa to start wondering if he had indeed made a mistake. What if Zemo had found some way to escape, even though it was impossible, no one outsmarted Shuri's tech, and had only been fooling T'Challa all along?
T'Challa's communication device began to chime and he accepted the call the second he saw it was Steve Rogers. On the small screen, Steve's face appeared.
“T'Challa. Any luck?”
“Not yet.” T'Challa had surprised the other man with his idea of using Zemo to gain information, but desperate times called for desperate measures. “When will you land?”
“Pilot say we touch ground in about one hour. Tony's plane won't be far behind us.”
“Then I hope I can greet you with some news,” T'Challa said, “as time is of importance in this matter.”
“I'm afraid so.” Steve said. “Thank you. Again.”
T'Challa smiled and waved off the gratitude before ending the call.
“He's leaving. He's leaving the building.” Okoye declared, her voice as sharp as her words.
“Then it is time for us to leave as well.” T'Challa signaled the driver and the car pulled out to head back to the Basilica.
It would be a lie to claim that he didn't feel a certain sense of relief when he saw Zemo waiting a small distance from the building and he did not hesitate to get in the car.
Zemo settled in the seat and met T'Challa's eyes. “We need to go to Slovakia.”
“What did he tell you?”
“Those two your friends killed were no longer Sokovian Intelligence, but had joined forces with Hydra. There is an officer in Slovakia who has ties to Hydra as well. He will know which base they are being kept in.”
Novi Grad, Sokovia
Eddie hoped someone had written down the number of the truck that had not only rammed the car off the road but obviously had run over him a couple of times as well.
~Eddie! Eddie! You need to wake up, Eddie!~
Flinching at the loud voice inside his already sore head, Eddie groaned. “I'm up. What?” Which was around the time when he opened his eyes and realized he was strapped down to what appeared to be a surgery table. His arms and legs were secured with some strange metal holdings that were glowing with some bizarre light. “What the...?” He tried to yank his arms and legs free.
~No use. We tried that while you were asleep.~
“I wasn't asleep,” Eddie muttered, still tugging at his arms, “I was unconscious. Big difference.” He went still and frowned up at the ceiling. “You mean you can't break these things? I've seen you break far tougher stuff than this.”
~Something different about these, Eddie. They are powered by something powerful. We're trapped. Can't fully connect with you.~
Going from uncomfortable to worried, Eddie tried freeing himself again, now with even more gusto. “Nonono, we need to get out of here.”
“I'm afraid I can't allow that.” A voice said and out of the shadows appeared a man with a strange looking monocle. “My name is Strucker. Baron Strucker. Pleasure to meet you, Eddie Brock. I was quite fascinated when I learned about you and your... condition.”
Eddie blinked, now completely still. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
~It's okay to eat this one, Eddie?~
“Yep.” Eddie replied.
The symbiote dove out of him, rushing towards Strucker with every intent of biting his head off, but Eddie was shocked to see the black substance hit an invisible wall and shriek with pain. It was as if it was being electrocuted, zapped by whatever was making that invisible wall, and the agony traveled to Eddie as well through their connection.
Screaming, shaking against the bed and the restraints, Eddie almost passed out. Then it suddenly stopped and the pain was gone as abruptly as it had hit.
The relief was replaced with fear when he realized it was because the symbiote had lost the connection with him and was a shuddering heap on the floor. “Venom!” Unable to reach down, Eddie could only lift his fingers in a helpless gesture. “Buddy, hey, are you okay?”
The symbiote seemed dazed, shapeless and disoriented.
“Seeing what this thing can do, I thought it would be wise to have some precautions in place.” Strucker was awfully pleased with himself. “We have a wonderful power-source that gives us weapons and defensive measures and we have just started to scratch the surface of what it can do. And yet...” Here he gave a theatrical sigh. “Yet, we are still limited. Our soldiers are only human.” Strucker turned his gaze down to where the symbiote now reached for the edge of the bed Eddie was on and tried to haul itself up. “I hope that you may have brought us the solution for that.”
Eddie reached as much as he could for Venom and felt a flicker of relief when a tendril shot out and latched itself to his hand. “That's it. Come on.” He watched as the symbiote drew closer and finally managed to merge into him again and could feel how echoes of pain was still fluttering through it.
Furious, Eddie lifted his gaze to glare at the other man. “I'm going to kill you for that.”
“I doubt that.” Strucker moved closer but kept a certain distance, keeping clear of that shield obviously, and picked up a datapad. “Let's get to work, shall we?”
~Never been hit by anything like that, Eddie. They must have the Infinity stone.~
Eddie went cold. Clint had been in the car. Had they managed to dig the stone out of him somehow? Was he even alive? “Hey, three eyes, what did you do to Clint?”
Strucker smiled. “He's aiding us in our research as well. Now, let us see if my theory is correct. You came out of the car crash without a scratch, Mr. Brock. Was that thanks to your condition?”
Before he could really say or do anything else, Strucker had pulled his sidearm and promptly shot him in his thigh. Eddie screamed as his body bucked helplessly against the restraints.
Within seconds, black liquid covered the wound and closed it.
Strucker smiled even wider. “Fascinating.”
Traveling from the US to Italy, Tony had fallen asleep and Loki was left to battle the urge to do the same. It was tempting to rest a little, but the dangers of dreaming was enough to make him hesitate. Lately all he'd had was nightmares about his time as a captive under Thanos.
The idea that the idiot Thor might go through the same pain right now made it impossible to ignore those memories like he usually did and it seeped into his dreams. Thanos couldn't be that cruel, could he? He wanted to hope, but Loki knew he was.
When they had to set course for Slovakia instead of Italy, it made Loki absolutely livid. Any hope of resting vanished. “I don't have time to be doing a world-tour with your boyband, Stark!”
Tony sent him a flat look over his sunglasses, turned on his heel and headed back to his bed.
At the airport, they met up with Captain America and his two pets, who could inform them that T'Challa and his followers had gone ahead to find a clue to Barton's whereabouts and they were instructed to wait in a hotel.
By the time they arrived at the hotel and was standing in the lobby, Loki was almost too angry to speak. Wait? He had not time to wait! “We don't have time for this!”
Steve looked rather alarmed at the outburst while Bucky and Sam both reached for their weapons.
Tony cleared his throat. “I'll deal with this.” He turned and gestured for Loki to follow him into one of the rooms they had been handed a key to. Once inside, he did some hand movement and activated his Iron Man gloves.
Loki opened his mouth to ask, rather sharply, what he thought he was doing, but then Tony grabbed a hold of the front of his shirt, yanked him to the side before blasting energy shots to his shoulders and making him stumble backwards until he ended up in a chair, by which time Loki was too surprised to really react before he was sitting down and gazing up at a rather angry looking Tony Stark.
“Listen,” Tony yanked off his trademark sunglasses and glared down at Loki, “I get that you're worried for Thor. I'm getting that this Thanos is a big deal and we need to be worried. But this bitching and whining and sulking? It's got to stop, okay?”
Loki blinked. How... dared he?
“We're trying to help you, Loki.” Tony had noted there were no more than two windows in the room, but he'd rather not be thrown out either one of them, thank you very much. “We're doing the best we can, as fast as we can, but you are not helping with your shitty attitude. We're on the same side at the moment, remember?”
Breathing a laugh, Loki couldn't quite decide whether he was a little impressed or even angrier at the moment. “You always had more guts than sense, Tony Stark.” He remembered the man offering him a drink during the New York invasion.
“So everyone keeps telling me.” Tony said, brown eyes filled with mischief. “Does this mean you're done with your little tantrums? Are you going to play nice?”
Loki's eyes narrowed and he got up from the chair, looming over Tony. His beautiful face cold and perfect, dammit. “That mouth of yours will get you into trouble one of these days, Stark.”
It wouldn't be the first time his mouth got him into trouble. Tony drew a shivering breath, a helpless adrenaline junkie with a severe impulse problem in the face of unstable danger. Oh, fuck it.
Loki was not prepared for Tony's hands reaching up, cupping his face and pulling him down into a soft yet insistent kiss. One moment he was considering which window to toss Tony Stark through, the next there was lips against his own. Wide-eyed, Loki registered the persuasive way Tony's mouth moved, how his beard prickled at Loki's skin and that minor fact that he'd done nothing to end the kiss yet.
Breaking free, Loki straightened with a confused frown. “What...?”
But then Tony pushed at his stomach, not using his blasters or any real force, but hard enough for the already unbalanced Loki to sit back down again. The man followed up with having the unmatched audacity to straddle Loki's thighs with an unbearably smug look on his face. “If I'd known this was the way to shut you up, I would have done this long ago!”
Sneering, Loki knew he was being manipulated, made to aim his tension away from the others, but Tony was just infuriating enough for it to work. “You wouldn't be able to handle it, Stark.”
That only made Tony's eyes glitter with almost maniacal glee. “Bring it on, handsome. I'm betting there is nothing you know that I haven't done and even evolved into something better.”
Loki's hands landed on Tony's thighs and he pulled him closer and into a far more intimate position, keeping his eyes locked with his. “You know you're challenging a god, right?”
“Hey, in this situation, I've been called a god many times myself.”
Loki rolled his eyes before he placed a hand behind Tony's neck and pulled him into a kiss of his own. There was nothing to do but wait anyway, why not. He pretended not to notice the grin he could feel on Tony's lips before they both focused on luring out a reaction from the other one.
A tightening of the grip on Tony's neck made the man's lips part in an inhale that was part objection and part interest, and it made it easy for Loki to lure him into deeper kisses. One point for him.
Tony made a sound deep in his chest, smoothly responding to Loki's agile tongue, before rolling his hips and getting a hitch in Loki's breath as a reward. One point for Tony.
Eventually, as things were really starting to heat up, the moment was shattered by a knock on the door.
Pausing, slightly out of breath and more than a little turned on, Tony held Loki's taunting gaze as he called out; “Yeah, what?”
“T'Challa has arrived. We're meeting in the conference room to the right.” Steve replied. “Are you... okay?”
“I'm fine, Rogers. We'll be there in a minute.”
As the footsteps moved away, Loki released his grip on Tony's hips. “Saved by Captain America, Tony Stark.”
Scoffing, Tony got up with a coolly raised eyebrow. “Oh, we're not done, Loki. We're picking this up later.”
Loki was more amused than he'd been in a century. “As you wish.” He was going to enjoy teaching Tony Stark a lesson.
Peter Quill stared grimly at the stars in the horizon. “I got a bad feeling about this.”
His partner Centurion Saal was seated in the co-pilot seat and appeared equally somber. “I agree, but we had to help those people. With Asgard gone, her royal line gone, those people had no place to go. Gamora and the others will make sure they get to safety.”
Peter grunted. “I know. It's just that... I still have a very bad feeling about this. Like we should never have split up.”
“Xandar is gone. You saw what Thanos had done to those Asgardian ships. If we don't reach Earth before he does, more people will die.”
Nodding, Peter re-checked that the engines on the Milano were pushed as hard as possible. “I just would have felt better if we'd all stuck together, you know?”
“Yeah.” Saal felt the loss of his people back on Xandar like a gaping wound in his soul.
“How are you feeling?” Peter asked, glancing over as he heard the hurt in that simple word.
“Angry.” Saal replied. His eyes briefly glowed with energy. “But in control.”
Peter let his gaze linger a little while longer, uncomfortably aware of how little it would take for Saal to go Nova Omega after what had happened, but he eventually turned to look at the stars again.
Yeah, he definitely had a really bad feeling about this.
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
For the ones who has not read Empty Nests and Red Ledgers; Lind is the bad guy in my Clintasha-fic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If there ever was someone who wondered how much tension you could put into a room before it exploded, Steve was pretty certain he was looking at the answer.
He had exchanged a quick glance with Sam when Tony and Loki entered the room when Tony still wouldn't even glance in the general direction of Bucky. It was an improvement from Tony actively trying to kill him, but still...
And then tension rose even more as T'Challa entered with Helmut Zemo by his side and Zemo did look over at Bucky, a faint smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Steve's glare made the man shift his gaze to the floor instead, but Zemo didn't seem overly concerned at the unspoken threat.
“Everyone is here? Good.” T'Challa said, placing a datapad on the big table in the center of the room. He pressed a couple of buttons and from the screen rose a 3-D structural plan of a building. “Here is what we know so far. Our sources informs us that Barton and Brock was brought to Sokovia, more precisely, to Novi Grad and the Hydra Base there.”
Steve crossed his arms. “How reliable are these... 'sources'?”
“They have never failed me in the past.” Zemo stated in a flat voice.
Loki stepped closer to the table, entirely focused on the 3-D image. “So we go in and get Barton back. When do we leave?”
“We need a plan of attack,” Steve said and chose to ignore Tony rolling his eyes in the background. “We can't just go in blind.”
“Aside from a large but unknown number of soldiers, there are two escape routes leading out of the building in addition to the main entrance,” T'Challa continued, pointing out two areas on the 3-D map. “North and south.” He placed his hands flat on the table and looked around at the people in the room. “I will go through the main entrance with Zemo.”
Steve blinked. “What?”
“Hydra knows I was captured and imprisoned in Wakanda. They believe I have tricked T'Challa into thinking I am on your side and will deliver him to them.” Zemo said, sounding like he was watching paint dry.
Glancing over at Bucky, hating how he was radiating tension, Steve wished he could have asked him to return to Wakanda while they dealt with this, but knew it would be futile. There was no way Bucky would agree to it, even as the guilt brought with Tony's mere presence and the fear due to Zemo's knowledge of how to manipulate him was grinding him down. “Me, Bucky and Sam will take north. Tony, Loki and Okoye, you guys cover the south exit.”
“Agreed.” T'Challa straightened and folded his hands behind his back. “Unless there are any objections?”
No one said anything.
“Excellent.” T'Challa said. “Then, Sokovia.”
Tony was the first to leave, followed by Loki, T'Challa was next, Okoye, then Zemo and, after a brief hesitation, Sam. When it was just him and Bucky left, Steve turned to face him.
“You don't have to do this, you know.” He knew it was futile, but he still had to say it.
Bucky forced himself to smile, but there was turmoil in his eyes. “I'm fine.”
Liar. The urge to reach out and comfort him in some way threatened to choke Steve. “Buck...“ His courage failed and he forced a smile of his own. “Until the end of the line, right?”
Bucky didn't hesitate. “Right.”
Novi Grad, Sokovia
Eddie convulsed as the gas released into the room ate away at his internal organs and Venom tried to repair the damage as fast as it could. He barely noticed Strucker with a gas-mask, writing down his observations and yelling orders.
Two Hydra soldiers were in pieces on the floor after they had made the mistake of stepping inside the barrier and within the symbiote's reach.
~Stay alive, Eddie. You have to stay alive.~
It took seven minutes for the gas to disperse and Eddie to be able to breathe on his own again.
Gulping down air, twitching as the pain was starting to leave his body, Eddie wasn't reassured by how there was a taint of worry to Venom's tone and he could feel it growing tired. While the two soldiers had fed the symbiote, it was spending too much energy trying to keep Eddie alive.
~Promise me you'll kill that fucker Strucker...~
~We will kill him, Eddie.~
Eddie groaned and squirmed on the bed.
“Quite remarkable.” Strucker stated once he had removed his own gas-mask. “Bullet wounds, incisions, fractures, fire, three different variations of gas... You are able to regenerate from it all.” He smiled, thrilled as a child on Christmas morning. “This would truly create a supersoldier.”
Eddie merely turned his head away. He couldn't block out his voice, but he could decide not to look at him. He was too exhausted to do anything else.
“Don't worry, Mr. Brock. You will get some time to recover.” Strucker's voice said. “Rest, while I check up on our other guest. Agent Barton has turned out to be most interesting as well.”
Closing his eyes, Eddie felt a wave of resignation wash over him after Strucker left the room.
~We're in trouble, Eddie.~
“Yeah,” Eddie sighed, opening his eyes again to stare up at the ceiling, “we are.”
Venom emerged from his chest and looked down at him. ”He will be back.”
“Yup.” Eddie moved his gaze over at the computer monitoring his health. He hesitated before he sent a thought towards Venom; ~Can you... stop my heart?~
Venom reared up like an angry cobra. “You have to stay alive, Eddie.”
~He won't step inside the barrier. We can't get to him.~ Eddie licked his lips nervously, wondering if he'd finally gone completely insane. ~Stop my heart and he will have to find you a new host.~
Disappearing inside him again, Venom felt even more agitated than before.
~If... If we time it right, you can jump-start me again? I mean, I've read about people flatlining and coming back to life...~
~No.~ The word was brimming with anger. ~Too risky. Far too risky, Eddie.~
“We'll explain to him that you need a host to live in our world,” Eddie rambled on, “and...”
Letting out a frustrated groan, Eddie thumped his head against the bed. “Will you just listen to me?”
~You die, I die.~
“Not if you can find another host.”
~Don't want another host. You're mine.~
The possessive words hit him hard. Eddie spread his fingers, felt the symbiote materialize a hand against his and so he braided their fingers together and found comfort in that gesture. “Loser,” he muttered affectionately.
“You're going to get us killed.”
~No. WE are going to eat them.~
“I like the sound of that.” Eddie closed his eyes again, feeling exhaustion settle in every part of his body.
And as he drowsed, Venom emerged from his chest again, waiting for Strucker's return and an opportunity to unleash its fury. Eddie was special, Anne and Dan was special, Clint was okay, the rest of humanity all deserved to die.
Footsteps warned Clint that someone was approaching so he forced his eyes open to watch the doorway. His head still ached, his body ached, but he felt better than before.
“It appears that I was wrong about you, Agent Barton.” Strucker declared as he stepped into the room, already tapping away at his datapad. “I owe you an apology.”
“Apology not accepted, shithead.” Clint tried to shift his weight a little in the chair. “I can't feel my ass thanks to being stuck in this thing for two hundred years. And if your guards aren't going to be more helpful with my potty-breaks, it's going to become one messy chair one of these days, man.”
Strucker nodded absently, clearly not listening, completely focused on his datapad. “Your brainwaves shows traces of an energy signature. It's as if you are still connected to it, somehow. It's quite fascinating. Lind was right after all.”
Clint frowned thoughtfully. If Strucker thought he was still connected to the scepter, that meant he couldn't tell that this energy signal came from a different power source that Loki so nicely had shoved into his skull without asking his permission. Something told Clint that Strucker would happily open Clint's head with a can-opener if he knew what was in there. “You know Lind ended up dead, right?”
Strucker made some final taps on his datapad before finally lifting his gaze from it. “I'm going to have to move you to another location. This is fascinating. I can work with this.”
“I'm sorry to hear that.” Clint tensed up as two Hydra soldiers stepped into the room as well. Once they had removed the restraints, he made a break for it and managed to send one of them sprawling and get into a wrestling match with the other before two more soldiers appeared and he was easily overpowered. His hands were cuffed behind his back and Clint was yanked back up on his feet.
Groaning, Clint delivered a final kick to the shin of the guy behind him before a hard slap to the back of his already aching head made him focus on not throwing up instead.
Blood was trickling down his face and Strucker made a tutting sound. “You tore up your stitches, Agent Barton. We shall have to fix that, but it will have to wait until we have relocated you.” He waved a hand at the Hydra soldiers and Clint felt them tugging him forward, giving him the choice of walking on his own two feet or be dragged. He decided to walk. He was in enough pain already.
They lead him down a long hallway and down some stairs to another level. A part of him wanted to make fun of the fact that they felt they needed four soldiers to escort him, but he felt too tired and the nausea was back in full force so Clint kept his mouth shut. He wondered if they had moved Eddie and Venom as well...
As they walked down a narrow hall with a single metal door at the end of it things went from bad to confusing when the door was opened and it revealed Bucky Barnes.
For a moment, Clint and the Hydra soldiers all stared and didn't move, then Bucky lifted his gun and fired off four bullets. Clint didn't flinch as the soldiers around him fell, merely kept staring at Bucky. His head trauma had clearly started conjuring up hallucinations now. And while Bucky was a handsome guy with a pretty mouth and thighs for months, why couldn't his brain have conjured up Nat? Bad enough the real Nat avoided him, even the imaginary ones refused to show up?
“Come on.” Bucky moved over, undid the cuffs and tugged at Clint. “We gotta go.”
“Wait.” Clint crouched down and took a handgun from one of the soldiers as he was not going to wander around unarmed. He was surprised to see it was his own gun. A quick patting of the soldier's pockets resulted in finding the personal items he'd had with him when the car had been rammed off the road. Nice. Now if only he could get back up again and not fall flat on his face...
Bucky pulled him up and dragged him through the door to another hallway. “You're bleeding. You okay?”
Clint stumbled after him. He felt dizzy. “You're really real?”
Bucky frowned at him. “Yeah, I'm real. So are Hydra. Are you able to fight?”
“Yeah, I...” Clint swallowed hard, the quick pace Bucky kept was threatening to make him throw up, and his balance was more than a little off. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Just...” Bucky scanned him and didn't seem convinced. “Just keep your head down and stay behind me. Steve is one floor down somewhere and Sam is making sure our exit remains open, but we got to hurry. They're going to know we are here soon.”
“They're looking for him. If he's here, they'll find him and get him out. My mission now is to get you out, Clint. Let's go.” He tapped his ear-piece and activated the communication device. “This is Barnes. I got Clint. Heading out now.”
T'Challa tried to appeared relaxed as he followed Zemo into the building. Inside the second set of doors, there were Hydra soldiers everywhere and he suddenly felt very vulnerable.
Zemo appeared as unfazed as always, ignoring any curious look sent his way from the soldiers, merely kept walking further into the base.
They passed what appeared to be one laboratory after another, rooms filled with all sorts of weapons and schematics. Was Hydra preparing for an all out war?
They had reached the second level when a siren started blaring and soldiers began rushing towards the southern entrance. It had only been a matter of time before they got discovered, but T'Challa had hoped it wouldn't be this quick.
“We have to hurry,” he stated out of the corner of his mouth, pretending not to be startled by the soldiers rushing by them.
“We got time,” Zemo replied, calm as ever. “Strucker's labs are down this hall.”
T'Challa wanted to argue, but kept quiet. For now it seemed like the soldiers were set on getting to the commotion rather than cast a second look at them and that suited him fine. The longer they could avoid fighting, the better. There would be fighting soon enough.
The first two labs were empty. One showed signs of recent use, even had blood on the floor, but no sign of who or what had been there.
It was the third room that made T'Challa's heart jump. A man was strapped down on a surgery table, there were two ruined bodies on the floor, and a machine was humming amidst several computers that told of a large amount of power being used. Stepping into the room, he saw the man had his eyes closed, was breathing deeply as if asleep, unconscious then, and T'Challa recognized him as the man from the picture he'd been shown; Eddie Brock.
Knowing they had little to no time left before they were discovered, T'Challa moved over to the machine and turned it off, taking no chance that it would sound another alarm if they removed Brock.
The humming vanished and when he turned to deal with the unconscious man, a massive black shadow rushed towards him, all teeth and rage. It was like Death come to life. A living nightmare.
T'Challa felt something ram into him, sending him toppling backwards and he hardly believed his own eyes when he sat back up and saw Zemo on his back on the floor, his right arm locked in the jaws of a huge monster hunched over him, a somewhat humanoid creature made out of living oil and teeth. Zemo's left hand trying to push it away had almost disappeared into the black liquid. The creature was straining to close its mouth, but one side of its mouth had clamped down on the vibranium bracelet which prevented it from severing Zemo's right arm.
Startled shouting revealed that some Hydra soldiers had discovered that the monster was loose and they began firing at it from the doorway. The monster flung Zemo aside, roared angrily while the bullets bounced off it and then didn't hesitate to turn its rage and teeth upon them.
T'Challa scrambled over to where Zemo was curled up on his side, his back towards him. He turned him over and was startled to discover Zemo staring down at his mangled arm with detached interest. The bracelet had prevented the monster from severing his arm, but the teeth on the other side of the jaw had dug in deep and torn both flesh and veins when it had flung him away and blood was now pouring out from the mess.
Without hesitation, T'Challa pulled off his jacket and began to wrap it around the arm.
Zemo responded by trying to pull away, using his free hand to sabotage the make-shift tourniquet, but he merely yanked him back and tied the jacket hard around the limb to minimize the bloodflow. It slowed it down, but it was still bleeding bad.
Zemo made one more feeble attempt to reach for the knot, but T'Challa stopped him by grabbing his wrist, holding on tightly when he tried to free himself and then he merely sagged in defeat.
“When?” Zemo whispered, his voice quivering. “When will the living be done with me?”
T'Challa swallowed hard, only distantly aware of the screams coming from the hallway as the monster went on a rampage. “Not yet.”
“I saved your life.”
“Then leave me for the dead.”
T'Challa got up, pulling Zemo up by his unharmed arm and then wrapped it behind his neck to help him walk. “Let's go.”
Tony had not been prepared for a sudden explosion shaking the building when he'd done his very best to tip-toe his way into the damn base. Even Loki had behaved himself! It must have been something Steve and his crew had done, but it wasn't like Captain Perfect to mess up...
Hydra soldiers were everywhere now, shooting at anything that moved and there was a loud siren that just wouldn't stop!
Okoye made quick work of soldiers on the ground level, he was already drafting a job offer to her, Loki dealt with the ones who were smart enough to take cover, while Tony took out anyone trying to attack them from above.
Making his way into a new room, Tony was no less confused when he saw a huge hole in the ceiling, as well as the ceiling above it. Like something had crashed through them both.
Tony looked up and saw nothing but clear sky. “What the...?”
Moving by him, opening the door leading out into a hall, Loki crossed it to enter the next room. There a blue glow danced across his face and he stared at the scepter on display with a sinking feeling in his gut. “Oh no...”
At the opposite side of the building, Bucky pulled open yet another door and he turned to call out for Clint through the blaring siren. The archer was currently a few steps behind him and firing his gun at some Hydra soldiers trying to prevent them from escaping. “Clint, we gotta go!”
Clint fired one last shot then turned to follow him. He froze mid-step, eyes wide with horror, when something moved behind Bucky and a blade was rammed into Bucky's back. It was like a mirror image of how Coulson had died.
Time stood still as Bucky blinked once, looking confused as a trail of blood began trickling from his mouth. His body suddenly jerked when the shadow behind him moved again and his gun clattered to the ground from numb fingers unable to hold on. Time began to move once more.
Bucky sank to his knees, freed from the glaive that had impaled him, and the one known as Corvus Glaive, child of Thanos, was revealed and he sneered at Hawkeye. “Where is the scepter?”
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Tony faces a difficult decision and things get even worse for the others
Forcing his eyes up from the fallen Bucky, Clint wasn't entirely sure he wasn't hallucinating after all. “What...?”
“Where. Is.” The alien pronounced every word with a death threat in them. “The scepter.” He stepped over Bucky, lifting the glaive and smirking with the prospect of spilling more blood.
“I don't...” Clint began, struggling to deal with everything that was happening. Bucky was lying lifeless on the ground, blood pooling around him, this alien dude was getting all stab-happy again and there was a loud commotion coming closer from behind Clint. “I don't know, man. I haven't seen the damn thing since Loki waved it around.” He was going to throw up at any minute now.
Corvus' eyes narrowed, clearly not convinced, and he moved to attack. “Then you are of no use to me.”
There was a loud crash as the wall behind Clint shattered and he instinctively ducked down, making it impossible for him to see the darkness flying over him. He did see it colliding into the alien guy though and Clint blinked surprised as he recognized Venom during the few seconds he was there - before both he and Corvus disappeared as he slammed the newcomer through the next wall in its path. The symbiote's furious roar rang again as it continued through yet another wall like it had been taking lessons from the Hulk.
Stunned, it took Clint several seconds before he shuffled over on his hand and knees to where Bucky was lying. “Bucky...?” He was relieved to see the dazed man was still alive, but with the amount of blood he was losing; it wouldn't be for long, unless he got help.
Bucky's breathing was wet and labored, blood trickling and bubbling from his mouth, clear warning signs of a punctured lung.
Clint hesitated, considering his options, knowing he wouldn't be able to carry Bucky very far in his own reduced condition and hearing the soldiers approaching their current location, Clint suddenly remembered what he'd found in the pocket of the Hydra soldier who had carried his handgun.
“Hang in there, ok?” Clint said, “I'll keep them occupied.” He reached out and picked up Bucky's assault rifle, making sure it was loaded. “Everything is going to be okay.” Then Clint pulled out of his own pocket a small device he'd made a habit out of bringing absolutely everywhere he went, the one thing he'd been most happy to reclaim from the soldier. Clint flipped it open, pushed the button under there before he placed it in Bucky's pocket.
Ok, time to make sure the Hydra soldiers didn't finish what that alien creep had started.
Clint struggled up on his feet, still dizzy and nauseous and now horribly tired as well, and headed back to the main hallway. Once there, he fired Bucky's very loud rifle up at the ceiling, catching the attention of every Hydra soldier present and once he'd done that; Clint made a mad run for it. Leading them away from Bucky.
On a normal day, he'd have no problem leading a bunch of idiots on a merry goose chase, but Clint quickly discovered that his balance was dangerously off so he didn't dare make any acrobatic jumps and even running down a straight hallway was difficult when the damn floor kept insisting on swinging back and forth! He did lead them away from Bucky though.
Bullets flew by him, some even grazing him, but Clint somehow managed to last a while before they actually hit him. A flaring pain went up his thigh as a bullet went through it and Clint went around a corner in an uncontrolled slide. He rolled to a halt, coughing and groaning, knowing there was no way he'd be able to get back up. He'd reached his limit.
Clint Barton was now going to throw up and then pass out, thank you very much.
His vision was really blurry so it took him several blinks before it cleared enough for him to realize he was staring at a pair of legs. Huh. He turned his head slightly and let his gaze slide up a pair of shapely legs and eventually up to a very familiar and beloved face.
Natasha Romanoff sent him a faint smile. “Hi.”
Now Clint was 100% certain he was hallucinating. “Hi.”
Lifting her gun and shooting two soldiers who made the mistake of peeking around the corner, Natasha didn't take her eyes off Clint. “I thought you were supposed to be undercover.”
“You know I can't be left unsupervised otherwise I get into trouble.”
That made her smile again. A real smile this time.
“What are you doing here?” Clint asked, too numb to care that he was probably dying in some corner in the real world and was glad he get to pass away in this nice dream.
“Making sure you get out alive.” She shot another soldier. “You look like shit.”
“You look beautiful.”
Natasha shook her head with mild resignation, crouching down next to him. “You're delusional. Now get up. We are getting out of here.”
Clint made a face. “Don't think I can.”
“That was not a request, Agent Barton. Get up.”
After Clint nearly died in Siberia, Tony had made him his very own distress beacon so that if he ever got into trouble of that caliber again; he could call for help and they would be able to find him.
Since then, Clint had been in plenty of trouble, but never used the device.
Tony started when the distress signal came up on his HUD. He hadn't even been sure Clint still had it, to be honest. Not after everything they'd been through, on opposite sides, and the words that had been exchanged between them. A lot of hurt and anger there.
“Barton needs help.” Tony declared over the communication system. “I'm going for him.”
For a moment he thought he heard Loki call out for him to stop, but there was no time to lose.
A couple of well-aimed rockets made it easy for Tony to get to the floor he needed and skip any doors in his way.
“There are signs of damage to the structure not consistent with the weapons available to the Hydra forces,” Jarvis observed as they approached the origin of the distress call
“So we might not be the only visitors?” Tony did not like the sound of that. “Great.”
Better find Barton fast and get out even quicker.
Making a hole in yet another wall gave Tony access to one of the million hallways in the building and the beacon's origin was at the end of it; a fallen body and a whole lot of blood.
It wasn't until he'd rushed over that Tony realized he wasn't staring at Clint. The man down was Bucky Barnes.
He had heard Barned calling in he'd found Clint, but once the distress beacon had been activated; he'd merely assumed the two had been separated by the soldiers and Clint had been backed into a corner.
Jarvis automatically scanned Barnes and began listing up his injuries and finished by appraising his condition as 'approaching critical'.
The Winter Soldier was dying. All Tony had to do was walk away. His mother's death would be avenged and no one would know. Whoever had injured Barnes was long gone and all Tony had had to do was walk... away... He was there to find Clint, not deal with this.
The memory of watching Barnes assassinate his parents on that surveillance tape flashed in front of Tony's eyes. He remembered watching him murder his mother... The anger flared up again, the hatred he'd felt in the bunker after Zemo had played that damn tape for him, and he actually took a step away.
It would be so easy to let him die, leave him to bleed out.
So why did Tony hesitate?
Why, when he knew he was looking at his mother's killer, did it feel wrong to leave him to his fate? Barnes had so much blood on his hands, innocent blood, he deserved this.
Clenching his jaw hard, letting out a frustrated groan, Tony turned back to glare at Barnes.
This was NOT fair!
“This is Stark,” Tony said over the communication system, “Barnes is down. He's hit bad. No sign of Clint. He must have planted the beacon on him.” He bent down and hoisted Barnes up, getting an arm around his torso and held on. “I'm bringing him out.” Tony switched off his speaker and directed his question to Jarvis; “Where is the nearest hospital?”
The AI marked the route on a map that came up on the HUD.
“Tony, what is your position?” Steve's voice had a touch of panic to it. No surprise there. “Tony, answer me.”
Tony pulled Barnes along and headed back to where he could go up through those convenient holes in the ceilings. “Heading out now, Cap. Find Barton and Brock. Be careful. There might be other visitors here in addition to us.”
“Tony? TONY?” Steve pressed harder on the communication piece in his ear, as if that could force the other to answer, but there was no reply.
The thought of Bucky being injured was almost as terrifying as the fear that Tony would leave him to die but Steve had little choice but to believe in the faith he'd always had that Howard's son was every bit the good man his father was deep down inside.
-Don't you dare die on me now, Buck.
Forcing himself to focus on his mission, Steve stepped out from the corner he'd ducked into when he'd heard about Bucky. He hoisted his shield a little, then continued on his search for the two missing men.
Someone suddenly stepped out from behind some shelves next to him and landed a punch that sent Steve flying through the air until he come to a stop by crashing hard into a wall.
Coughing and shaking his head, Steve pushed himself up only to see the guilty subject walk towards him.
It was a woman, but not like any woman he'd ever seen before. She was incredibly tall, her features anything but human and with unnaturally blue hair. “Where is the scepter?” She asked, lifting a fierce looking spear as a threat.
Steve got back up on his feet. “Listen, lady, I don't know who you are but I just learned that my friend is hurt and I need to find two colleagues. I strongly suggest you move out of my way.”
That actually made her smile. It wasn't a nice smile at all.
Enhanced reflexes was the only thing that made Steve able to dodge the spear she suddenly threw at him and after that it became an all out brawl. He managed to land quite a few punches, but so did she and her strength was definitely not human. She was fast as well, dodging some of his attacks and countering before he had the chance to block her.
It wasn't a long lasting fight, but it was a brutal one and lasting just long enough for Steve to worry he might not be able to win it – when they were interrupted by a loud roar.
The woman tossed Steve aside and spun around to face the blackness thundering towards her.
It was pure luck more than anything else that saved her from having her head bit off and Steve merely tried to stay out of the way as she and what he barely recognized as Venom was thrashing around in the hall.
At the hotel, he'd seen the symbiote a couple of times, emerging from Eddie Brock like a curious newcomer to Earth, but now the massive creature was deranged with bloodlust and anger. Now he could see how dangerous it could be. It appeared to attack everything within sight judging by the trail of bodies Steve noticed in the direction it had appeared from.
A scream of pain revealed that Venom had gotten a bite out of the woman as well but it was quickly followed by a flash of light – her escape – and suddenly the blackness turned towards Steve Rogers.
Back pressed against the wall, Steve tried to remain as still as possible. Venom snarled, its tongue coiling with agitation, and Venom slowly began to approach him like a predator approaching dinner.
“Venom...” Steve considered what would be his best escape route. “It's me. Steve Rogers. We came to get you out.” His voice drifted off when Venom was close enough to let its tongue reach out and touch by his jawline. Up close he could see the teeth were stained with blood, remnants of... things were stuck in its teeth, and saliva was dripping from Venom's mouth.
He heard the symbiote draw a sharp breath, saw it jerk forward and open its maw and just as sudden – it flinched backwards.
”No!” The blackness peeled back to reveal Eddie's face. He looked exhausted. “I'm sorry, Captain America. We didn't mean to...”
Steve shook his head, daring to peel himself away from the wall now that he didn't have imminent death licking at him. “It's Steve. Are you hurt?”
Eddie breathed a sarcastic laugh. “It's not the Hilton here.”
“Have you seen Clint?”
“No, not since we arrived here in this shit-hole.” Eddie couldn't prevent an angry rumble emerging from Venom. “We're getting out now.”
Steve nodded. “Right.” He lifted his hand and activated his communication piece. “Rogers here. I've found Venom. Or, he found me. We're heading for the exit. Still no eyes on Barton?”
“That's a negative.” Sam replied.
“No sign of him.” Okoye chimed in.
“T'Challa?” Steve asked, not bothering to ask Loki as he knew he'd get no reply.
“No sighting of Clint.” T'Challa confirmed. “But we ran into trouble and are heading back out now.”
“Trouble?” Okoye sounded more than a little upset.
“I'm fine.” T'Challa replied. “I shall meet you all outside.”
Steve made a frustrated sound. He had to get Venom out, he needed to know Bucky was going to be okay, but he couldn't just leave Clint. What was he supposed to do?
“Everyone get out,” a new voice said over the communication system, “I'll bring Barton.”
Was that... Natasha?
Eddie sank back into the darkness and allowed Venom free reign to bring them out from that cursed place. A distant part of his mind pointed out that he should be more upset with the fact that they'd just torn people apart (and chewed on at least two aliens, if his memory served him right?), but all Eddie cared about was getting out and away.
Bounding down the hall, smashing his way through a wall instead of going for the door, Venom registered to Eddie's delight that Captain Ame- Steve, he'd told them to call him Steve -had no trouble keeping up with his pace. Impressive!
Breaking through two more walls, Venom could finally look down at the stairs leading to a big, wide hall and the main entrance where everything was quiet and desolate.”There.”
Steve stepped up next to him. “Good work.” He pressed the communication device in his ear. “This is Rogers. We're at the main entrance. What is your status?”
“Right behind you,” a voice said.
Venom spun around with a growl, seeing two men stare cautiously at him. One of them had an injured arm, bleeding bad, smelling good...! ~No! Dude, come on.~
“You Majesty,” Steve greeted them, moving over to help the injured man walk. “Have you met Venom? Venom, that is T'Challa. King of Wakanda and a friend. And this guy is Zemo, not a friend, but we're obviously trying to keep him alive for some reason.”
The man called Zemo, dangerously pale due to heavy blood-loss, gave a faint smile of amusement.
“We've met.” T'Challa kept a wary eye on Venom.
~Let me talk to him.~ The blackness peeled back to reveal Eddie's face. “Uhm, yeah, sorry about that. I didn't know you were... Our minds were a bit messed up.”
T'Challa nodded, clearly not angry but still more than a little unsettled.
“My king!” Okoye's voice rang out as she appeared through a side-door, quickly followed by Sam.
“I'm unhurt,” T'Challa reassured her. “It's not my blood.”
“Good.” She stated, barely bothering to cast a cold glance Zemo's way.
“What happened to Barnes?” Sam asked Steve, but the response was merely a weak shake of his head.
“And what about Clint?” Eddie asked, feeling a little calmer and in control now that he and Venom were not alone against whatever was going on in that building.
“The radio,” Sam said. “Was that...?”
“It sounded like her,” Steve confirmed, “but why would she be here?”
“To make sure you guys actually make it out of here alive,” Natasha said, supporting a barely conscious Clint, already down by the exit doors.
They made their way down the stairs and headed for the exit as well. Where the hell had the Hydra soldiers gone to? “Is it just me, or did things suddenly go very quiet here?” Sam asked.
Eddie allowed Venom to cover him again. ”Let them come. We're still hungry.”
“I think I know why it got so quiet,” Steve said as he walked through the doors and found the building surrounded by soldiers and army vehicles.
Venom grinned widely. “Excellent.”
~Not excellent! That's a damn army!~
”That is food.”
Sam had just enough time to send Venom a rather disgusted look when everyone's attention was drawn to the sound of a window being shattered behind them.
Amidst a shower of glass from the third floor, a shape was falling towards the ground. A shape of black and green.
Loki twisted mid-air, like a cat, and landed hard on the ground in a crouch, barely keeping his balance. His gaze was firmly locked on the window he'd come through and in his right hand he was clutching a familiar scepter.
Up on the third floor, two shapes stepped up to look down at him. Corvus Glaive and Midnight Proxima took in the sight of Loki and his his allies (Proxima was still bleeding from the shoulder where Venom's teeth had left their mark and did not look happy about it.), as well as the minor army behind them, before they both dove for the scepter and the life of anyone who got in their way.
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Time to kick names and bite heads!
Several things happened simultaneously.
T'Challa shoved Zemo at Clint with a sharp order; “Keep him alive.” while Nat stepped away and gave a second order to the archer; “Keep your head down and keep yourself alive!”.
Even half-dead from losing a whole lot of blood, Zemo eyed the unsteady Clint with a calculating look and Hawkeye responded with a deadpan; “I'm perfectly able of knocking you out and keeping you alive that way. Don't even try, man.”
Zemo's upper lip tugged at a barely restrained snarl before he managed to slide his neutral expression back in place.
At the same time as that conversation, T'Challa, his suit now activated, appeared in front of Loki, along with Steve, and blocked the attack from Glaive and Proxima, who then had to dodge Okoye's weapon.
Nat and Venom shot forward towards the Hydra soldiers, followed by an airborne Sam.
While it didn't feel right to sit this one out while everyone was fighting, Clint could feel his balance was still way off and his head was aching worse than he'd ever experienced before. It would be plain stupid to try to enter the center of the fight in this condition- he'd only risk endangering the others when they'd be forced to save his ass. Again. So, instead, he pushed the reluctant Zemo along to duck behind a pillar near the Hydra base.
To say that Loki was surprised when the two jumped in front of him as human shields would be the understatement, but he quickly recovered and backed up to actually put the scepter to good use.
Proxima had Steve pinned down, forcing him to constantly block her barrage of attacks, but a well-aimed shot from the scepter forced her to back off.
Unfortunately, that also meant drawing her attention to him.
In a mix of several quick movements, Proxima tried to punch or stab Loki at random intervals and he found himself hard pressed to keep her at bay. One particular instance, when he used the scepter to prevent her from splitting him in half with a downward slice with her spear, the impact sent painful shivers up his arms.
“Give us the scepter.” Proxima ordered, using her considerable might to force Loki to take a step backward.
“Give me back my brother.” Loki countered through gritted teeth.
In the background, Steve, Okoye and T'Challa were struggling to keep up with Glaive, while explosions and gunshots revealed that Venom, Sam and Black Widow were still alive and keeping the Hydra army occupied.
“He is coming,” Proxima continued, unchained malice in her voice and eyes, “and he's got plans for you Loki.”
Remembering too well the unspeakable pain and horrors he'd experienced while being captive at Thanos' court, Loki felt no small amount of dread spread through his veins. Last time he'd barely survived. He'd used every bit of his persuasive talent to convince Thanos to let him live, but the Titan would not fall for the same trick twice and Loki knew he would make sure he suffered every bit as much this time - before allowing him to die.
For the tiniest of split seconds, fear made Loki freeze up, but that was all Proxima needed.
She used her free hand to grasp his throat, spun around and slammed him into a wall so hard it almost shattered. Her spear was already aiming to tear through Loki's throat when the blast hit her and threw her away.
Loki, still a little stunned from the impact, coughed and stared as Iron Man landed in front of him.
“I'm not too late to the party, am I?” Tony asked, a smirk in his voice even as his face was hidden.
“Yes, but I hear some humans believe it is fashionable to be late and have a love for dramatic entrances.” Loki said, pretending he'd seen the rescue come from a mile away. “I suppose I should say 'thank you'.”
“We've got unfinished business, buddy.” Tony let the heavy innuendo hang in the air before a loud crash made him turn around. Seeing the massive shape that was Venom plow through a group of soldiers before jumping on top of a tank and tearing the top hatch open, Tony didn't even try to hide the disbelief in his voice. “I'm not gonna lie; that is both impressive and terrifying. Should we... Did he just bite that guy's head off?!”
Loki grinned with pure glee. “Oh yes.”
Arms, legs, delicious skulls, they all were crushed between Venom's jaws. Some swallowed, some thrown aside, all done with an almost giddy delight at the overflow of food.
Of course, a lot of the soldiers responded with firing their weapons at them, but while Eddie automatically flinched inside; Venom barely felt them bounce off him. He was far too amused with the fact that there was no way of knowing how many soldiers were inside the vehicles for him to tear apart once they were opened like a bag of tater tots. It's was like opening wrapped gifts!
Eddie was also the only one of the two aware of the streak of red and black that darted among the soldiers alongside them and he recognized the woman as Black Widow. She was the one who had dumped all that information online. He really needed to get an interview with her...
A grenade sent a wave of discomfort verging on pain through Venom. Three seconds later, the soldier who had thrown it was dead. A small group of other soldiers tried to surround Venom, unloading every bullet they had on him, but it was a small task to grab one by the leg and smack the others with him. A couple of leaps brought Venom to the next group, where some snacking was done, but all too quickly he realized that the number of Hydra soldiers were drastically reduced by now. They were fleeing.
Sam was doing some pretty neat air acrobatics while firing his guns at ground targets. Black Widow was using every dirty trick she knew to bring down her targets. (She spared a narrow-eyed glare at Clint when he fired his gun and brought down some targets as well from his hiding space.) But this meant that Venom could turn his attention to the bigger challenge.
Iron Man and Loki kept the female busy, barraging her with blasts from either the suit or the scepter, and Steve was busy dealing with some Hydra soldiers, but the other alien had Okoye defending T'Challa after he'd taken a bad hit and was struggling to get back up on his feet.
Glaive snarled annoyed at the fact that a mere human was giving him this much trouble, but Okoye held his glare and didn't falter in the defense of her king. For a moment they stared at each other, waiting for an opening that would secure them victory, and then Glaive attacked.
Okoye blocked the first lunge, then the second, but on the third; she merely stared.
Corvus Glaive let out an agonized scream when sharp teeth engulfed his arm and Venom chomped down to cut it into three pieces.
The scream caught Proxima's attention. She sent Loki flying with a hard shove, sent Iron Man crashing into a wall due to a hard jab with her weapon, and was there to prevent Glaive from falling as he stumbled backwards, clutching where his arm just stopped at the elbow.
She stared at the damage, stared at the guilty ones with an amount of hatred that could set fire to the air, before there was a flash of light and the two disappeared.
A strange kind of almost-silence fell over the ones there. Steve stumbled over, sweaty and covered in dirt and specks of blood, to look down at the hand lying there with discomfort all over his face. “Everyone... okay?” He did not peek at Venom's grinning face.
T'Challa came over as well, rolling a sore shoulder, followed by Okoye. “I think so.”
“We'd better leave before they come back.” Loki said. “And they bring the others.”
“There's more of these guys?” Tony asked, not overly thrilled with the idea. “Great.”
“Let them come.” Venom uncoiled his tongue, still tasting Glaive's blood. ~Shut up. Don't jinx it!~
A loud explosion made everyone turn to find several of the now abandoned Hydra vehicles burning and Natasha standing in front of them with a device in her hand. She lifted an eyebrow. “What?”
Sam came down and landed next to Steve. “I took a look up there and seems like Hydra has had enough as well. The ones left were all heading away from the base.”
Steve nodded, but was more focused on Tony. “Tony. Where is he?”
“City hospital,” Tony replied, “they are patching him up. I figured you guys might need help so I headed back here.”
Steve nodded again, struggling to stay focused when everything in him was probably screaming for him to find Bucky again. He looked over at where Natasha had found her way over to Clint. The red-head was speaking softly to the archer, while Zemo was sitting on the ground and resting his head back against the pillar, cradling his ruined arm against his stomach. “Let's just get out of here.”
City Hospital, Sokovia
The city hospital was small but efficiently driven building. The people there had been more than a little surprised when they had gotten Bucky Barnes dropped in their laps, only to have more injured people arrive later. It didn't take long before several of the nurses whispered names like 'Avengers', 'Captain America' and 'Iron Man'.
Blood loss made Zemo barely able to walk or stay awake, but he still put up a fight when T'Challa and Okoye brought him inside.
The nurses stitched up his arm, as best they could and without any guarantee whether there was nerve damage or not. Zemo really looked ready to pass out after they'd gotten the bandage on. He was gulping down unsteady breaths, was covered with clammy sweat and had a distant look in his eyes, yet he still managed to mutter; “Should have let me die.”
Okoye shrugged, agreeing with him, but T'Challa sighed. “Not yet.”
Out in the hospital corridor, three rooms down, Steve was watching the unconscious Bucky through the window in the door to his room. Arms crossed, pinched look on his face, Steve hesitated to enter and had no idea why.
Sam came out of the room where he'd helped Natasha drag an equally reluctant Clint for his checkup and sauntered over to where Steve was standing. Crossing his arms as well, he stood next to him and looked in on the sleeping Barnes. “Clint's got a pretty bad concussion, some scrapes, a bullet hole, but he'll live.”
Tony, Loki and Eddie were already headed for the airport to prepare T'Challa's plane for take off.
“That's good.” Steve replied, glad to hear that Clint would be okay. He'd let the man get captured on his watch and that meant extra guilt to add to what Steve was already carrying, but at least he wouldn't have to have his life on his conscience.
Silence followed for a while, but then Sam sighed.
“You should tell him, you know. Before he gets his stupid ass killed.”
Frowning, Steve glanced over at Sam. “Tell him? Tell him what?”
That made Sam roll his eyes. “You know what. I mean, Bucky's gotta be the only one who doesn't know.”
To his horror, Steve felt heat crawling up his neck. “I don't – I don't know what you mean...”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, man.” Sam shifted his weight with a huff. “But don't get me wrong. I mean, I think you can do a lot better than him, but the heart wants what it wants, I guess.”
The heat was crawling into Steve's face now.
“And while I think you could do better, you could also do worse, so...” Sam glanced up at Steve with a no-nonsense look on his face, “but if you tell him I said that, I'll deny it.” He looked back at the man in the hospital bed again. “Now it's just a matter of getting him to the plane and back to Wakanda.”
Steve nodded, feeling too awkward to even look at Sam. What had he meant when he said that everyone except Bucky knew? Surely he couldn't mean... The notion was so embarrassing that his brain just refused to acknowledge the possibility and promptly shifted its focus elsewhere.
“There are still Hydra soldiers in this town. I'm going to talk to the people here and ask if we can borrow an ambulance to get to the airport. It would be safer to transport him like that.”
“Roger that.” Sam turned to lean against the wall next to the door. “I'll stay here and keep an eye on him.” He glanced over when Okoye came out of the room with T'Challa and Zemo. “But I gotta say I'm a little confused about the entire Zemo-situation. Why is he still alive? I should have dealt with him during the fight.”
Steve gave a humorless smile. “I won't say the idea didn't come to me as well.” He then shrugged one shoulder. “But T'Challa has a bigger claim on him than we do. He wants him alive? Zemo stays alive.”
Sam made a face. “I had bruises for weeks after Barnes' love-taps thanks to the orders of that asshole.”
“Life is pain.” Steve grinned. He slapped Sam's shoulder playfully then went in search of someone who could help him get his hands on an ambulance.
Clint still felt woozy, but he suspected it was due to the pills that doctor had given him. He watched in silence as Natasha was finishing up bandaging his thigh where a bullet had miraculously missed all important parts and basically left him with a nasty wound that would scar but nothing else. She had been tense and annoyed when the nurses dealt with the cut by his hairline and one on his shoulder, but when they'd asked Clint to remove his pants; Nat had declared the session over and for them to leave so she could do the rest herself. Truth be told, she'd seen and dealt with enough wounds over the years that she was as skilled as any nurse or doctor so Clint was okay with that.
“There,” she said, fastening the bandage. “All done. One more scar for your collection.”
“Nat.” Clint whispered, a thousand question in his voice.
Natasha frowned, as if she was the one in pain, staring down at the bandage. “Don't.”
“Not now.” It was as close as a plea that she could come to. Natasha gathered up blood soaked cotton and other things she'd used for cleaning the wound and went over to throw them in the trash.
Clint nodded. He knew there were times when he had to push her and there were times when she needed her space. This was the latter. She would tell him in her own time. He trusted her.
Getting dressed again was torture in itself, but Clint managed. At least the nausea had eased quite a bit so he was able to do it all himself and then they walked/limped out into the hallway.
There Sam was waiting for them, informing them that the nurses had brought Bucky down to a waiting ambulance, which meant that Steve had followed them of course, but T'Challa, Okoye and Zemo had also headed down to the vehicle a couple of minutes ago.
“How the hell are we gonna fit into one ambulance?” Clint asked as they were walking towards the exit.
“It's an old army ambulance,” Sam explained, “which means it'll fit seven people. Three in the front, four back.”
“Last time I checked, we were eight people,” Clint pointed out. Then got a hopeful look. “Unless you guys decided to kill Zemo after all?”
Sam smirked, but shook his head. “Unfortunately, no. They fixed his arm and he's still his cheerful self. But I'm going to take the windy road back, since I got my wings ready and we should have an eye in the sky anyways.”
Exiting the hospital, it was a short walk down three stairs and over to where the ambulance was waiting. Steve and T'Challa was standing by the back of the vehicle where the doors were open.
“Clint,” Steve greeted. “You look better.”
Clint managed a faint smile, halting next to him, registering that Bucky was strapped down on a gurney, clearly still out of it, while Zemo was sitting on the bench on the opposite side with Okoye hovering next to him. “Feeling a little better, Cap. They gave me some pretty sweet pain meds.”
Steve turned his gaze over on Natasha. “Nice timing.” There was the tiniest edge to his voice.
Natasha smiled, amused. “It's what I do best.”
Steve let his eyes linger on her for a moment longer, just long enough so Clint was about to get offended on her behalf, but then he turned to T'Challa. “You sure you want to drive?”
“Okay. Clint, Nat, you're up front with T'Challa. Me and Okoye will ride in the back.” Steve said, but that was as far as he got laying out his plan.
A small distance from them, there was a shower of sparks and suddenly a portal opened and through that portal fell Wong, followed by a red cape cradling the limp shape of Stephen Strange and finally; a damn big monster, most likely related to the ones they'd just fought.
Cull Obsidian straightened with a growl, hovering over Wong and Strange, but slowly turned his attention over to the ones by the ambulance.
“Next time,” Clint mumbled, “I'm sticking with Venom.”
Steve frowned, knowing a battle was inevitable, but wondering how he could draw it away from the ambulance. He didn't recognize the two men but could guess these were the ones Tony and Loki had sought out, which meant they too had an Infinity stone and the big guy could not be allowed to get his hands on it. “Listen, buddy,” he called out to Cull Obsidian, “there is a whole lot more of us than you. Trust me, you don't want to fight us. Just back off, okay? Leave and no one gets hurt.”
Obsidian lifted his weapon, a bizarre hybrid between an axe and a hammer, every bit as oversized as himself. He allowed the head of the weapon to detach on a chain and it fell; cracking the pavement on impact alone.
“Clint, get in the car,” Natasha ordered quietly, tense and ready for battle.
“Not happening.” Clint replied.
“What's the plan, Cap?” Sam asked.
“Hit him with everything we got and hope it's enough.” Steve wasn't sure it would be and he didn't like it. “Whatever happens, don't let him get the guy in the cape.”
“Why?” T'Challa asked.
“Because he has an Infinity Stone.”
“Dammit, these stones are everywhere!” Sam hissed with frustration. “This guy Thanos is running around looking for them and here they are; flying in our faces!”
Cull Obsidian charged, clearly deciding not to wait for them to finish their conversations, and it was like an unstoppable tank.
“Get him away from the ambulance!” Steve shouted, running to face Obsidian, soon followed by T'Challa, Sam, Natasha, Clint and Okoye. “Nat, Clint, get the two to safety!” The words had barely left his mouth before the weapon hit him in the ribs and knocked both the air out of his lungs and his entire body through the air until he smashed into a car.
T'Challa managed to dodge the attack aimed at him, but it landed on Okoye instead and sent her through one of the hospital window. Sam was airborne, but not for long as Cull sent his weapon after him, coiling the chain around the wings and yanking him down into a painful crash.
Struggling to breathe, his ribs felt like they were on fire, Steve pushed himself from the car wreck and stumbled a couple of steps while he gathered his dazed mind enough to make a second effort at an attack – which he did just in time to avoid getting hit by T'Challa as Obsidian's weapon clashed into him and he flew by Steve.
It didn't take long before it became clear they were going to need a miracle to subdue their enemy as they were already pretty beat up thanks to the insane strength he possessed and Cull wasn't even slowing down. Clint and Nat had dragged the two who'd come through the portal first to relative safety behind a large truck, but they were both swatted away like flies by the giant when they tried to attack – something which was probably not the best thing when Clint was already concussed.
It had been an insane day with all sort of crazy things happening, but apparently the quota was not filled just yet. There came down a pillar of bright light by the ambulance, much brighter than what Proxima had used to flee, and a humanoid figure came shooting out from it. It looked like a guy in a red leather jacket, wearing a red eyed mask, and with something attached to his belt that allowed him to fly around as he drew two guns and began firing non-stop at Obsidian as he circled him beyond his reach.
The guns only seemed to anger the beast even more and he grabbed a car to throw it after the pest.
Distracted by the guy firing at him, Obsidian did not see the second shape calmly stepping out from the pillar.
A tall, dark haired man in a blue uniform and the same kind of leather jacket as the other guy came out of the light and the pillar then vanished like it had never been there. He was not wearing a mask though, showing how one side of his face had been badly burned once. His eyes were glowing, a blueish white color, and his entire form radiated power.
Watching Obsidian for a couple of seconds, the man then clenched his hands into fists and suddenly the glow seemed to emerge from his very skin and he shot forward with enough speed for the windows in the neighboring buildings to rattle.
The first punch sent Cull Obsidian down on one knee, the next sent him staggering backwards and gave the man room to pick up speed so he could dart forward, grab Obsidian and fling him at an old and abandoned building with enough force so the monster went straight through the concrete wall.
The guy with the mask landed between Steve and T'Challa, sighing satisfied. “Man, I love it when he does that.” He reached up, touched something by his ear and the mask withdrew from his face, revealing a handsome man with mischievous eyes. “I'm Peter Quill, but you can call me Star Lord, that is my partner; Centurion Saal, and you guys,” Peter grinned, “are welcome!”
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Peter and Saal joins the team and a decision has to be made.
Apologies for late update, but have been struggling a bit with the motivation for this.
And with just a quick dive for some more info on our baddies, I discovered Corvus and Proxima are actually married. Huh. The more you know!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony paused and glanced at Eddie Brock at the back of the plane. When they had reached the airport, Loki had stalked off somewhere while Eddie had left it to Tony to organize things, merely disappearing into the Wakandian aircraft and stretching out over three seats so he could drowse the waiting time away.
That by itself wasn't what made Tony stare. No, he was staring because of the black substance emerging from Brock's chest, large and snake-like, to hover over Eddie, a face with narrow white eyes and far too many sharp teeth. He'd never get used to that sight.
The two were talking together, but too quietly for Tony to pick up on what they were saying. It would be an easy thing for Tony to activate microphones in his suit that would enable him to eavesdrop, but there was something about the (bizarre) situation that seemed... intimate. Tony knew he'd just end up feeling like a creeper and he doubted there was any plotting of the unsavory kind going on. Judging by the way Eddie reached up to gently touch the side of the alien's face, it suggested to Tony that it was something more of the personal kind. Who was he to judge?
Moving on, Tony sauntered back to enter the small office by the side of the airstrip where he'd made all the necessary calls to prepare their travel. He should phone and update Rhodey about the danger of this Thanos' possible arrival and then he planned to just laze about in the comfortable surroundings provided by Wakandian money until the others arrived. He was getting too old for all of this saving the world again and again business.
He'd taken one step into the office when something locked around his throat and Tony was yanked in only to be shoved against the wall next to the door. Long fingers were then clutching his jaw and Tony was just about to blindly activate his suit when he realized he was staring up at Loki.
Opening his mouth to tell Loki just how NOT funny he was, Tony never got the chance to utter the words as he was suddenly in the middle of one of the lewdest kisses he'd ever had the good fortune to experience.
Instead of the warm heat Tony had grown accustomed to during kissing people, Loki felt different, cool, like he'd recently been eating ice cream, and it was utterly fascinating. Not only his lips, but the tongue that Tony ventured to caress with his own as well felt cool to the touch.
The thigh Loki suddenly pushed between Tony's, adding pressure in strategic places, felt hot as hell though, in several ways!
Breaking the kiss, thumping his head back against the wall with a heavy inhale at Loki's bold move, Tony stated the first thing that came to his mind in a shaky voice: “I hate how tall you are.”
Loki grinned, green eyes shining with manic delight. “If you hate everyone who is taller than you, Stark, you must hate most of your planet.”
Tony's eyes narrowed, slightly sobered by the words. “Definitely starting to dislike you.”
Pushing his thigh a little firmer against him, Loki tilted his head slightly, still with that damn grin. “Doesn't feel like it.”
Tony shuddered against his own will. “That doesn't count. You should know that the only things required for me wanting to sleep with you is a good-looking face and a pulse.”
“So you're telling me I'm pretty?”
“You kind of did.”
Tony frowned. Usually he had no trouble finding a smart-ass answer to anything, but now all the blood was leaving his brain to settle further south. “Shut up,” he ended up saying, yanking Loki down to a biting kiss to end that particular conversation.
Next to Thor, Loki had always seemed more slender, but as Tony slid his hands up his chest to grab a hold of the collar on Loki's shirt there were no lack of impressive muscles. In fact, damn!
Further fueled by this revelation, Tony yanked Loki even closer and gave as good as he got.
For an undetermined time, the two had their own little battle with Tony using every trick he knew and Loki fighting dirty by keeping him pinned against the wall.
Just as Tony was seriously considering ridding Loki of all that damned leather and getting his tongue on that pale skin, a sudden sound interrupted everything and informed him that Steve was trying to get a hold of him via his phone.
Placing a hand to Loki's chest, signaling him to stop, Tony pressed the device by his ear to accept the call. “What?” The word came out sharper and more breathless than he liked.
Loki grinned again, smug and confident, but the smile vanished when he saw the concern growing on Tony's face as he received news.
“We'll have the plane ready.” Tony said, pressing the device again to end the call. He turned his attention back to Loki. “Another one of your former friends appeared. They managed to get away with a little help from some new guys. They're on their way now, but the faster we get away from here the better.”
Loki took a step away, even paler than before and with a tension to his shoulders. “We'd better hurry,” he said quietly, “because they won't give up. It's not what they do.”
“Neither do we,” Tony countered. “Now help me get this damn plane ready.”
Approaching Earth, Peter Quill had been both excited and nervous to see his home world. He hadn't been there since his mother died and he'd been kidnapped by Yondu. He kept quiet though, knowing too well how the loss of Xandar was still hurting his partner. Saal didn't really talk about it, but Peter could see the pain in his face and he knew he could still hear the dying screams of his people in the Nova Force inside him.
But once they were close enough to start planning their descent into Earth's atmosphere, Saal had sat up like he heard some very interesting news.
“Down there.” He said, as if that narrowed down where the hell he meant on Earth, “I can feel it. An Infinity stone.”
Peter nodded, not doubting him for a second. “Then let's go.”
Peter returned to Earth to save his home planet from Thanos. Saal came there to avenge his people.
Which was why Peter had no problem being bait for the big guy beating the shit out of some people while Saal took the unnoticed approached and unleashed his anger.
When Saal sent the big guy through a building, Peter landed between two baffled men, sighing satisfied. “Man, I love it when he does that.” He reached up and unlocked his mask to do the grand reveal.
“I'm Peter Quill, but you can call me Star Lord, that is my partner; Centurion Saal, and you guys,” Peter grinned, “are welcome!”
One of the men, a blond, a damn fine specimen of the human race, was the first to speak. “I, uh, I'm Steve Rogers.” He gestured to the other guy, which was another fine piece of art. “This is T'Challa. And we appreciate your help.”
“Yeah, now we just wanna know why you're here.” A third voice piped up as one more joined them.
Steve sent the one who had spoken a sharp look. “Sam.” He turned his focus back to Peter. “And that's Sam Wilson. I apologize for his tone, but his question might need some answering.”
Peter shrugged, sticking his thumbs into the lining of his pants to look really cool. “Well, we're here to save the planet.”
Steve raised his eyebrows, looking more puzzled than impressed. A warrior woman appeared from the building nearby and stepped up next to T'Challa, eying Peter suspiciously.
“Yeah, you see, there is this really bad dude who is heading this way. He wants something called Infinity Stones and if he gets them, man, we're all gonna be in trouble.” Peter decided to explain everything, knowing how little the people of Earth knew of the bigger things.
“Yeah,” Sam said with a dry look, “we know.”
Okay, that was unexpected. But then Saal came walking towards them, body tense and his eyes still glowing agitated, and Peter frowned a little. He knew the risk of Saal going Omega was very much present and he did not like the look of this. “Hey, big boy, you okay?”
Saal halted in front of them and with a visible effort; he clamped down on the Nova Force. The glow eased down until it was gone. Once he'd achieved that, he gave Peter a quick nod before looking at the others there. “My name is Centurion Saal. I fear the villain managed to flee.”
“Steve Rogers.” The blond appeared to be the leader of the pack. “We appreciate your assistance.”
Saal acknowledged the words with another nod.
“Steve.” Natasha spoke up from behind him. She sounded strained and with good reason; she was keeping a supportive grip on Clint's arm around her neck as his head injury had once again been torn open and fresh blood was already covering half of his dazed face and the side of his throat. “We're going back inside.” And she was probably not going to let the archer out again.
“Wait.” Saal moved over, “I can help.” He reached out and took Clint's face between his hands.
Clint blinked, looking more than a little confused as to why a random stranger was suddenly groping his aching head. “I'm flattered, but I'm already kinda spoken for and she's a famous assassin, man, wouldn't want to mess with her, I'm warning you...”
The glow returned to Saal's eyes and his hands and before their very eyes; Clint's wound closed.
Peter was physically unable to restrain a proud grin as he saw the unabashed awe in everyone's eyes. Yup, that was his boyfriend!
Releasing Clint, Saal nodded with satisfaction and the glow died away once more. “There.”
“Holy shit,” Clint said, straightening and patting his own head where the wound had been, before eagerly pointing to his thigh as well. “Can you do something about that too?”
Saal didn't hesitate to heal the bullet wound as well, which seemed to convince Steve Rogers enough to step forward with badly hidden hope in his voice. “Can you heal all kinds of injuries?”
“Not all kinds, but some.” Saal firmly ignored the warning look Peter sent him.
Peter gritted his teeth, trying to trust Saal knew what he was doing, but it was hard. After the destruction of Xandar, Saal had been flooded with the Nova Force, enough to drive him insane, and nothing but Peter Quill's genetics as a part-Celestial had saved him from the Nova Omega fate. He had already tempted fate by fighting that giant, he should really lay off the Nova Force until it had settled again, not run around healing a whole bunch of people!
“Would you mind taking a look at a friend of mine?” Steve asked.
Saal gestured faintly. “If I can help, of course. Lead the way.”
Peter sighed. Great...
“Where did you come from?” T'Challa asked as the others moved away.
“A long, long way from here.” Peter replied absently. “Saal sensed there was an Infinity stone in this location.”
Sam scoffed. “Try three!”
“Three?” Peter blinked, horrified. The Collector had taken a horrible risk when he wanted to store two Infinity stones together and now he and Saal had stumbled across someone stupid enough to have no less than three?
Eddie reached up and let his hand slide along Venom's jawline. “You sure you're okay?” He asked quietly. The memory of the pain the symbiote had felt when it had hit that damn invisible shield was still haunting him.
”Fire was worse.”
Frowning at the mere mentioning of that horrible time when he'd nearly lost him, Eddie slid his hand behind Venom's neck and squished him against his chest in a protective hug. He pretended not to hear the happy rumble from the symbiote. “Next time I tell you to leave, you listen, okay?”
The rumble disappeared and was replaced with an annoyed snarl. The blackness spread out to wrap multiple arms around Eddie, tightening its grip until he had to make a small sound of protest.
”You're mine, Eddie. Don't leave what is mine.”
“During the fire, you let me go so that I'd live, remember?”
”Remember you came looking for us, Eddie. Remember you finding us and giving us life back.”
Eddie closed his eyes with a resigned sigh, stroking the symbiote in a calm, soothing pets across his chest. “You're such a stubborn idiot.”
He could feel the symbiote stretching out even more, merging to slide against his skin instead of clothing, and it brought a faint shudder through him. “Never said... I wasn't...” Eddie mumbled, squirming slightly. “Dude, what...”
His eyes opened abruptly when he felt the darkness slide down his belly and aiming for far more intimate parts. As much as the mere idea made his blood stir most eagerly, he was NOT going to do... that on an Avengers plane! If Steve was to walk in on them -Eddie suspected from what he'd read about Tony Stark that Stark would barely have raised an eyebrow, but to be caught by Captain America himself in such a situation- there would be no need for weirdo scientists to kill him because Eddie would have to end himself out of embarrassment.
“Nonono,” Eddie mumbled, reaching down to stop the symbiote from stirring him too much, “not here.”
Venom emerged from near his hip and sent him a narrow-eyed look of confusion. ”Why not? You like how this feels. We helped the Avengers, we did good, we deserve to feel good now.”
Exhaling a laugh, Eddie shrugged a little. “Ah, well, it's not that I don't, er, like it, it's more the timing and the surroundings, man.”
Judging by the blank stare Venom was sending him, he did not understand.
Eddie licked his lips nervously. “Steve and the others can arrive at any moment. Tony and Loki are around here somewhere. I prefer things to be more... private. Remember we talked about this?”
“You humans. So foolish.” But Venom withdrew further up to locate on his chest again and Eddie slumped back with a mix of relief and disappointment.
“Later.” Eddie confirmed, petting Venom again as a slight compensation. As much as they could argue over all sorts of silly things, the symbiote was actually trying to adjust to Earth and Eddie's way of life, even if he didn't understand or approve of some of the aspects to it. Vegetables was an abomination he only tolerated because Eddie said so, someone bumping into them on the street was not reason enough to traumatize them for life (Their biggest fight yet.), climbing buildings was only allowed at night, internet was a goldmine of knowledge, but most importantly: Ann was the reluctant referee when they couldn't agree on something and Dan made the best cookies.
The sound of vehicles approaching made both Eddie and Venom tense up.
“They're here,” Eddie said and got on his feet. He walked over to the doorway and saw no less than two cars come driving towards the plane. One ambulance and what looked like an army vehicle. He frowned thoughtfully at the sight. There were only supposed to be one car.
Venom hovered next to him. ”Trouble, Eddie?”
“Could be...” He mumbled. The mere thought of being dragged back to that lab made him uneasy and the symbiote growled due to their empathic bond.
But as the cars came to a halt, Loki and Tony appeared from the small building and seemed to be untroubled at the sight. Whatever had happened, it didn't mean further trouble, at the moment.
Eddie walked down the stairs from the plane and sauntered over to join the others.
If he was going to write a story about what had happened when Venom and the Avengers saved the world, he'd better get all the details right or that Pulitzer might slip right through his fingers.
As he approached, he saw familiar faces exit the cars, but then there were unfamiliar ones.
One of them, a sandy haired guy with a red leather jacket, loud mouthed and grinning, made Venom uncomfortable.
“What?” Eddie murmured quietly before they were within reach for the others to hear.
”That one...” The symbiote sounded antsy, but also... confused? ”There is something about that one... Don't like that one, Eddie.”
Nodding thoughtfully, Eddie studied the guy for a moment. “Okay. We'll keep an eye on that one.”
To say that Bucky was confused would be the understatement of the century, but truth be told; it wasn't an unfamiliar feeling. Ever since he'd woken up to a huge Steve Rogers hovering over him in Zola's laboratory, Bucky's life had been one giant clusterfuck of 'what the hell is going on?!'.
One moment he'd been with Clint inside the Hydra base, the next thing he knew he was looking up at some stranger's face in the back of an ambulance. A stranger who apparently could heal wounds by touching them and using some glowy magic. Sure. Why not. Because that wasn't half as weird as the other magician in the red cape (who was still unconscious for some reason) with his very protective friend, right? No, that was just the life of Bucky Barnes these days.
As the rest gathered outside of the cars, leaving only the caped guy and his friend in the ambulance, Bucky saw Tony approach and decided to stay in the background to make things as easy for Stark as possible. He knew the last thing Tony Stark wanted to see was his face. He didn't blame him.
The newcomers, the extremely chatty Peter Quill and the blissfully stoic Centurion Saal, were introduced to Tony, Loki and Eddie and that creature of his.
“You are Loki,” Saal said. A shadow of pain came across his face. “I'm sorry.”
Loki's jaw clenched for a moment, clearly fighting hard not to show any emotion over the loss of his home despite how much it hurt, then he gave a faint nod. “I heard about Xandar as well.”
Saal nodded as well, struggling against his own pain and anger. Thanos had a lot to answer for.
“We got three of these Infinity Stones,” Steve stated and everyone turned their attention to him. “Surely that means we have evened the odds a little against this... Thanos?”
Loki scoffed before he put on an overly pleasant expression. “And how do you intend to use them, Mr. Rogers? Would you like to volunteer touching one?”
“No. He really doesn't.” Peter Quill huffed, shaking his head with wide eyes. “Dude, trust me, you don't wanna touch these things. They are far too powerful. They will eat you alive.”
Clint discretely lifted a hand to his head, keenly aware that he was very much carrying a nuclear bomb inside and not happy about it! Bucky didn't blame him. He kind of understood as he felt like a walking nuclear bomb at times. And Zemo's presence was unnerving, to say the least!
“Clearly these things can be weaponized,” Tony Stark shot in. “Judging from Loki's Glow-stick of Destiny, they can make pretty good weapons against these guys. If Thanos wants them so badly, lets have him choke on them.”
“Tampering with Infinity Stones are very dangerous,” Saal warned solemnly.
“I'm very good at tampering,” Tony countered flippantly. It made the taller man frown.
“You people just don't get it.” Loki exclaimed with a taint of hysterical amusement. “You really don't get it, do you?” He looked from one to the other. “You can't defeat him.”
“So what are our options?” Steve asked, crossing his arms.
Loki shrugged. “Run.” He glanced over at Clint. “Hide.” He then shifted his gaze over to Saal. “Am I wrong?”
Saal crossed his arms as well, face tight. “Thanos is powerful. But he's not immortal.”
The corner of Loki's mouth tugged at a smile. “Are you going to let your human fight him?”
“Half human!” Peter piped up.
Saal frowned even deeper, but he did not reply. That made Peter glance over at him with surprise.
“So if we can't defeat him,” Steve said, “and running is not an option, I suggest we come up with something, because I'm willing to bet that those guys we met back at the base will be back and they're not going to be friendlier.”
“What happened to the sorcerer?” Loki asked, nodding towards the ambulance.
“Some companion to the big guy we met outside the hospital hit him with a spell according to Wong. He's working on reversing it.” Steve replied and Bucky was impressed at how matter of factly he sounded. Like wizards and magic were an every day thing now.
Hell, maybe it was.
Welcome to a day in the life of Bucky Barnes.
“May I suggest we get back to Wakanda and find our strategy there. Let my scientists have a look at these... stones.” T'Challa said.
“Keep all the stones in one location? That's got to be the stupidest thing you can do.” Zemo suddenly said in a deceptively soft voice.
After T'Challa had asked if Saal could heal his injured arm, the Sokovian had kept quiet and merely glared with a burning hatred in his dark eyes.
Bucky realized he'd preferred him like that. The sound of that voice made his skin crawl.
Tony raised a sardonic eyebrow and gestured faintly in the general direction of Zemo. “Why is he here, again? Why is he talking? Are we listening to the bad guys now?”
Zemo, trapped between T'Challa on his right and Okoye on his left, was looking at the ground as usual, but he almost smiled. Almost. And there was contempt there.
T'Challa was watching his prisoner carefully, but seemed more thoughtful than offended. “I think,” he said, “that words from the man who single handed plotted and executed a bombing of the UN, flushed out the infamous Winter Soldier and shattered the Avengers shouldn't be so easily dismissed.”
Steve clenched his jaw hard, clearly forcing his distaste away, and rolled his shoulders once before he stepped forward and into Zemo's personal space; forcing him to look up at him and feel the full looming threat of his presence. “Ok. Talk.”
Defiantly, gleefully, Zemo gazed up at him with that half-smile of contempt, daring him to do more than to glare.
For a moment, the two stared at each other, but when it became clear that Steve wasn't going to cross the line, Zemo spoke again.
“You're in a war, Captain. This is not a game of tags or hide and seek. War. Remember war? You have something this guy wants, your only advantage is one being hidden, and the other two should be far from each other; spread out his troops, weaken his strength, don't let him focus on one target. Based on what I've heard; you won't be able to take him head on. Some times, you have to use your brain instead of brawn and let your enemy do your work for you.”
The echo of the strategy he'd used against them lingered in the words. Steve's frown did not ease up. “Why are you helping us?”
The scorn increased in Zemo's expression. “My debt is not with you.”
T'Challa let out a slow breath as his suspicion had been correct; Zemo did not want Thanos' wrath set on Wakanda. Maybe he thought that, despite how he'd deprived them of one king, if he saved Wakandian lives then the living would be done with him. The rest of the world could most likely burn for all that Zemo cared.
“In the interest of saving time,” Sam cut in, “I just wanna say that, while you all know I got no love for Finding Zemo over there, he's not wrong about this. We need to split up and do some serious divide and conquer shit. We've just had our asses handed to us, twice.”
Steve nodded, reluctantly breaking eye contact with Zemo and stepping away to face the others. “Okay, that means Clint, Strange and that staff of yours Loki are going separate ways.”
“And me,” Tony shot in. “I'm heading back to the Compound. I got some stuff I want to pick up before this Thanos-guy arrives.”
Loki shrugged. “I'll go with him.”
Tony tried to smother a smile but didn't quite succeed. Steve blinked unsettled.
“I'm bringing the Sorcerer Supreme back to the Sanctum,” Wong's voice could suddenly be heard and now everyone turned to face him. “I need to do some more research on this spell that keeps him incapacitated.”
“You're going to need some help if those guys come back,” Steve warned.
“We'll go with them,” Saal offered, having already battled Obsidian and forced him into retreat.
Peter Quill snapped out of whatever he was thinking about and looked extremely confused. “We will? Oh. Right. Yeah. Don't worry about it. We'll keep them safe. No problem.”
T'Challa looked over at Clint Barton, who was quiet and not looking pleased, probably only kept from slinking away by the red haired woman by his side. “Agent Barton, care to return to Wakanda?”
Clint smiled but it was a bitter thing and there was no spark in his eyes. “Do I have a choice?”
Sam replied “No.” just as Steve said “Of course.”, but it was Bucky who stepped up next to him and nudged his shoulder and brought fourth a real smile.
“Then that's settled,” T'Challa said.
“That just leaves the scepter.” Steve tried to act unimpressed when the thing magically appeared in Loki's hand.
“This goes with me,” Loki declared, something clearly not up for discussion. “This and Stark. That's all.”
Wong teleported himself, Strange, Saal and Peter back to the New York Sanctum and they quickly moved on to the Hong Kong Sanctum where he could begin his research.
Tony and Loki boarded the Stark private jet and headed for the Avengers Compound.
The rest boarded T'Challa's plane and set course for Wakanda.
Natasha let her gaze move from one person to the other. There was something in T'Challa's eyes that told her he had not forgotten about her previous betrayal. Good. He had been too trusting. Zemo's eyes made her think of a wolf she once saw stuck in a trap in Siberia, nearly dead from trying to chew its leg off and still ready to tear her throat out if she came close enough. Okoye was the only neutral one there, but possibly because she aimed all her distrust towards the Sokovian.
The one she didn't know, Eddie Brock, seemed both shy and overly eager to make eye contact with her. He would occasionally mutter to himself. She decided to ignore him for the time being.
Bucky was asleep by take-off, so was Sam, and his head eventually tilted over to rest against the metal shoulder. Steve sat across from them and quietly studied the duo, with unwavering love in his eyes and concern about Thanos on his mind.
Steve hadn't really looked at Natasha since her return, allowing her to feel his displeasure over her siding with Tony over the Accords like she was a naughty school-girl. Silly man. While she, along with the rest of the world, craved the approval of Steve Rogers, she would never let it get in the way of doing what she thought needed to be done. He would thaw eventually, though. She wasn't worried. Steve was a good guy.
Sitting next to her was the real problem. Clint was leaning back against the seat and staring emptily out at the skies. He looked tired. Distant.
“You okay?” Natasha asked quietly through the gentle hum of the plane's engine.
He nodded, but there was no other response from him. He wasn't shutting her out, that wasn't how he did things, that was her, but there was nothing for him to say that didn't include the topic she had vetoed earlier and he respected that, as always.
In that moment, out of nowhere, Natasha wanted nothing more than to have his arms around her. If she had been able to allow herself this, she would have crawled into his embrace and she knew he would have held her.
Maybe it was even what he needed right now.
Her love for him nearly choked her.
She'd been there in the aftermath of what Loki's manipulations had done to him, seen the damage, and this was Clint being reduced to pawn and unable to do anything about it all over again. His second worst fear.
Her leaving had always been his worst one.
Guilt made her angry but Natasha refused herself to act on that as well. He hadn't asked for this. And what had happened before the Accords wasn't his fault either. It was all her.
Natasha had tried to warn him when they had crossed the line between partners and... something more; she didn't do relationships, she didn't do sentiment, but he'd wanted her, them, anyway. Nat had allowed herself to think that because he knew her better than anyone else, that it would work, somehow, and it had, for a while, until...
Lost in her own depressing thoughts, she was a little surprised when she felt and then saw Clint's fingers slide over hers, but she didn't resist, was actually grateful, when he took her hand in his and kept it there.
It was a small thing, but it was something she could do and for the moment, it was enough.
Midnight Proxima watched as Corvus gingerly clenched and unclenched his new hand. She made a silent vow to burn that Klyntar alive next time she saw it. “How does it feel?”
Corvus made a non-committing sound, still trying the flexibility of the synthetic arm.
Ever since their failed mission and his injury, he'd been simmering with quiet anger. Usually she would have found that attractive in him, but the sight of his injury unsettled her.
Her own wound from the teeth that had claimed Corvus' hand was almost forgotten by this sight. That Klyntar was definitely going to burn. She was going to burn it piece by piece.
The sign for an incoming call flashed on the screen next to them. Corvus absently accepted it with his one original hand.
The screen flickered once and then Ebony Maw appeared.
“The Sorcerer has been located at the Hong Kong Sanctum. I will transmit the coordinates.”
Corvus nodded, testing his grip on the glaive. “Will you be joining us?”
Maw smirked. “I'm afraid not.” The image flickered again, but there was no mistaking movement in the background. “I have an appointment with the traitor. I have something that belongs to him.”
Thor Odinson was chained up, bleeding and barely conscious, but Midnight Proxima had no trouble recognizing him and she suspected Loki wouldn't need a second glance either.
He would just need to choose between his brother's life and the Mind Stone.
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
It is finally 'later' to Venom's glee, Nat reveals why she left, Tony and Loki discover they more in common than they thought and things happen in the Hong Kong Sanctum.
(And a brief reminder; the abomination that is AoU did not happen, all that 'plot' is not valid here!)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Eddie knew he shouldn't be staring wide-eyed at his surroundings and at least pretend to be unfazed, but the building they'd just entered showed just how rich T'Challa and Wakanda was. This was a far cry from his own shitty apartment!
It had been determined on the flight that they'd just rest up, considering they'd arrive late in the evening, then re-group the next day to create a plan for how to proceed.
T'Challa led them through a door that brought them to a long hallway with four doors on either side and two guards at each end.
“Please,” he said, gesturing to the doors, “choose whichever you like. If you need anything, ask the guards.”
“Thank you.” Steve said and it was easy to hear he meant it. “We really appreciate this.”
T'Challa accepted his words with a nod.
Sam sauntered off to peek into the different rooms before he settled on the one furthest away to the right. Natasha chose the closest on the left side and left the door open for Clint to follow; he did. Bucky mumbled something about reclaiming his old room and entered the one next to Natasha. Steve's gaze rested on his friend for a long while, then he chose the room next to his.
Eddie shuffled over to the door closest to the right, but paused when he saw T'Challa would then be left behind with the still quiet Zemo. Was it wise to leave those two alone? He'd finally gotten the full story about Zemo from Sam during the flight and he suddenly didn't feel bad about biting him.
“You kept your word.” T'Challa said, scanning the malignant man. “Our deal was for you to return to your cell afterwards.”
Zemo said nothing. He was staring at the ground, no emotion in his eyes, he clearly did not care. It was unsettling to see how empty he was inside. It made Eddie think of a program he'd seen once on TV about Black Holes in space.
“But,” T'Challa continued, “that was before we knew of this new threat.” He didn't seem fazed by Zemo's lack of response. “You were a Colonel, leading EKO Scorpion. You made a plan that tore the Avengers apart. You may not be a good man, but you are a clever one, so I ask you; will you help me defeat Thanos' plan?”
Eddie raised an eyebrow, surprised and impressed. Surprised that T'Challa would ask such a thing, impressed at how he asked. If he had requested that Zemo aid the Avengers, there was only one answer he would have gotten, but instead he played on the obligation Zemo clearly felt to him.
~Remind me never to play chess with T'Challa.~
~Why would we play games with him?~ Venom sounded confused.
Eddie shook his head. “Figure of speech,” he mumbled quietly.
Zemo was looking at T'Challa now, mean intelligence flaring briefly in his eyes before they went dead again and he spoke in a monotone voice; “If you promise to never save my life again.”
“If you give me your word you will not seek out injury on purpose.” T'Challa countered.
Zemo considered it, then nodded.
T'Challa gestured to the room next to Sam. “Then I see no reason why you should return to your cell yet.” He then gestured to the guards to keep an eye on Zemo. “I don't recommend you leave the room without permission though.”
“I'm not going anywhere.” Zemo said, and disappeared into the room without a second glance at his captor.
T'Challa watched as the door closed with barely a sound, then he turned his gaze to Eddie. “Yes?”
Startled, Eddie put on a bright smile. “Oh! Uh. Nothing. I just... Nice digs.” And he fled into his room as well, shutting the door before the man could call him out on his obvious eavesdropping.
~You humans do enjoy complicating things.~ Venom emerged snake-like from Eddie's shoulder to stare at him with his eternal grin. ”He should've just bit his head off. Problem solved."
Eddie snorted a laugh. “Yeah, no, I don't think T'Challa is the head-biting kinda guy.” He glanced around and saw the guestroom was every bit as luxurious as the rest of the building. Sweet.
”His loss.” Venom shot out a black tentacle and grabbed a hold of the bed. Eddie's shriek as he was yanked over to said bed was silenced by darkness covering his mouth. ”It's 'later', Eddie.”
When Eddie tried to sit up, he was merely yanked down again and held down, but the darkness slid away from his face when he shook his head to remove it.
“Communication!” Eddie blurted out. “Remember?”
”You said 'later'.” Venom pointed out.
“Yeah, I...” Eddie closed his eyes briefly when he felt the symbiote slide a touch down his stomach. “I did say that, but...” He failed to hold back a shivering sigh as Venom wasted no time in going for all his weak spots. “Fuck. Okay. We'll go over, ngh, the specificness of 'later' later.”
Being able to instantly read the body's responses, Venom wasted no time in winding him up and aiming for what he knew would make Eddie turn into a feast of sweet pleasure for him to relish in.
Eddie went from zero to a hundred real quick, but he managed to gasp out a word between heavy breaths; “Wait.”
That seemed to puzzle the symbiote, making it pause in its actions, and Venom emerged from his chest to frown down at him. “Wait? Wait is different from stop?” The deal that they'd stop if Eddie said stop was still valid.
Eddie felt his body shudder an objection to why things had come to a halt and it was a struggle to think when all the blood in his body had gathered a whole lot further south than his brain. “Wait means wait.” He tried to lift his hands but found his wrists engulfed in the black and shoved down against the sheets again. That really shouldn't be as hot as it was. “It's just... Slow down. I mean, it's all good, but slow down. We're in no hurry. Slow down and it'll last longer.”
(Eddie's ego was still smarting from when Venom had commented that getting Eddie off was very enjoyable, but that chocolate lasted longer.)
The symbiote stared at him for a second longer, considering, then went back to business. But now its touch was gentle, trying, instead of the insistent pressure where Eddie could not resist it and it became a slow build, not the wild roller coaster it usually was.
At first Eddie thought he'd done something smart as he was now able to savor the feelings instead of drowning in them, but that only lasted until he was a sweaty, squirming mess and Venom refused to pick up the pace. That's when he knew he'd done a horrible mistake.
In a room not too far away, Clint was sitting on the bed, absently dismantling and putting back together the handgun he'd retrieved from the thieving Hydra soldier. The routine made it a little easier to keep still and wait while Natasha was in the shower.
It wasn't like he thought she'd climb out the bathroom window and disappear, but he knew he wouldn't be able to relax before she was back in the room again. He had no idea what he'd done wrong to push her away. Them choosing different sides on the Accords wouldn't have been enough to drive her away, if she really was upset with him for wanting his freedom from politicians she would have made damn sure he knew it, so this was something else. Whatever it was, it had caused Black Widow to go into hiding and stay silent for longer than he'd ever experienced since he'd recruited her to SHIELD and when she'd spoken to him; she had been in shut down-mode.
Finally the water was turned off and not too long after that, Natasha came sauntering into the room. She was dressed in a tank top and a pair of his (too big) track pants that she'd stolen from him before she vanished. Drying her red hair with a towel, she walked over to the bed and climbed into it to settle in the middle.
Clint placed the gun on the nightstand and turned slightly to look at her. “You good?”
She nodded, letting the towel sink down to hang around her neck. “You?”
A silence followed, as close to awkward as it could ever be between them, and Clint broke. As always. “I gotta ask.” He saw her tense up. “I just need to know what I did. That's all.” He wanted to reach out and touch her, but he wasn't sure if she'd welcome it.
Natasha pulled the towel from around her neck and tossed it over to a chair nearby.
“Tasha...” Clint knew he was threading on thin ground, pressuring her like this, but he needed to know. He'd spent weeks and weeks racking his brain for an explanation as to why she would just withdraw like that and he'd always come up blank. He wasn't going to demand she'd reveal everything, he just had to know how he'd ruined the best thing he'd ever had in his life.
There was another silence, long enough for Clint to think he wasn't going to an answer and that he'd gone too far, but then she spoke.
“It wasn't you.” The words sounded like they were dragged out of her and Natasha kept her face away from him. “I needed to figure some things out.”
Relieved, oh so relieved, but also even more confused, Clint caught himself reaching out for her hand and had to clench his own into a fist to keep from touching her. “Things you couldn't tell me?”
They've always been able to tell each other everything. Even before she'd allowed him to love her, they had always had each others backs, in and out of battle. People even accused them of reading each others minds. Yet, for some reason, Hawkeye failed to see what had happened here.
There was another long pause, but this time Clint didn't push, merely waited.
Natasha suddenly got out of the bed, wandered over to stare out the window and crossed her arms. She would not look at him. “I thought I was pregnant.”
Clint would have been less surprised if she had picked up his gun and shot him in the head. It felt like she had punched the air out of his lungs though. He shook his head a little, trying to shake the shock.
“It was a false alarm.” Natasha said. “I should have realized. We've always been careful.” There was a touch of harsh self-deprecation in her voice, but that was replaced with a quiet reflectiveness when she continued. “But it made me think.” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other, uncomfortable, but unable to stop once that she'd started talking. “When they wanted us to sign the Accords, I thought it might be a way to continue doing what we did, but not as rogue agents. Something safer. Less dangerous, at least. A way for us to have both worlds.” She scoffed. “Then that blew up into a fight too. That made me realize how foolish I was for... thinking.”
When her voice trailed off, Clint hardly dared to breathe. His head was spinning. This was a topic neither of them had even considered. Or so he'd thought.
She finally turned to look at him. Her eyes were sharp and defensive. “I needed to get away for a while. Get my head back on straight. Seeing you only made things worse.”
Clint got up and walked over to her. “You should have told me.” He said, gently, not accusing, more distraught than anything else over that she'd been troubled and he hadn't been allowed to help her.
Natasha hesitated. “I didn't know how.” This was the vulnerable side of her no one else got to see.
Reaching out, Clint finally touched her, drew his fingers along her cheek until he could slide his hand behind her neck and pull her into his embrace. She actually let him hold her and it made his heart ache even more. “I didn't even know you wanted...” Had he failed to see that as well?
“I didn't!” Natasha snapped angrily, but made no move to push him away.
Maybe they did read each others minds because Clint instantly knew Natasha had never once considered starting a family, something normal people did, not people like her, until she thought she'd accidentally stumbled into the situation. The real shock came when she realized she wanted it.
Clint hadn't thought about it either, not really, but he found himself thinking about it now and realize he could want it too. Nat had spent these months convincing herself it could never work, but he wasn't so sure.
But, whatever the future brought them, whatever they decided on, as long as he had Nat by his side, that would be more than enough for him.
"Don't leave me again." He whispered, making it both an order and a plea, and she tightened her grip on him in response.
The Avengers Compound, USA
“So, how does it work? This... science of yours.” Loki asked as he was walking through Tony's workshop, occasionally drawing light fingers over different projects scattered around the place.
Tony sent him a suspicious look, clutching one of his proto-type helmets and wondered if he should bother trying to explain things to him, partially because he wasn't sure he'd understand and partially because he worried he would understand and use it against him. Loki might be crazy, but he was damn smart. “How about you tell me why you got something against Thor instead?”
Loki scoffed with an annoyed expression on his face. “You wouldn't understand.” His pretty mouth curled with irritation. “He's always been the golden child. Father's favorite. You have no idea what it's like to constantly live in his shadow.”
Tony made a face, putting down the helmet with a thump. “Yeah, I would never know what it's like constantly being compared to a golden wonderboy who could do no wrong. And no matter what you did, you could never measure up to him, could never compare to his perfection.” He glanced over at the puzzled Loki with a slight smirk. “At least you had Thor to stab. I grew up with a ghost.”
Loki made a thoughtful sound, looking at him with too much interest in his green eyes, and even smiled a little in return. “You keep surprising me, Tony Stark.”
“Is that a good thing?”
Loki didn't reply, but his smile turned dangerous.
Tony swallowed hard. That smile did things to his naughty bits. “I have to call Rhodey. Check if Banner has gotten back to me.”
Loki slowly stalked towards him. “If you say so.”
Tony exhaled. Who would have thought he and the psychotic Odinson would have so damn much in common? From the humor to the disapproving father with his golden favorite, to how they dealt with things they couldn't deal with. While Tony enjoyed a combination of sex and alcohol, Loki was certainly an expert at distracting himself with the first.
On their flight over from Europe, Tony had seen Loki lost in thought, a worried frown marring his handsome face, absently biting nails and constantly bouncing his knee. Whatever the man said, he was seriously concerned over Thanos' arrival and what Thor was going through in captivity.
Loki's lips against his still felt chilled- Did the guy never warm up? -but it wasn't a chore to respond to them. Ever since he'd installed a reactor in his chest, Tony had constantly been running warm, a little too warm, the doctors kept thinking he was running a fever, so attaching himself to a frosty man was pretty nice actually.
Doing this wouldn't fix anything, but it did mean neither of them had to battle bad thoughts for a little while. Sometimes all Tony needed to keep from break down screaming was a moment of distraction, something that stopped him from thinking. If you couldn't have real peace of mind, Tony knew you would eventually be desperate enough to accept the fake kind for however long it lasted, even if it was mere minutes.
It should probably worry him how much he understood Loki's need to do something stupid.
But if Loki thought Tony was an easy distraction to be had, he would soon learn just how wrong he was.
Pushing into the kiss, sliding his hands into the black hair, taking every bit as much as he was giving, Tony felt an excited shiver go through the taller man, even as Loki gave him a punishing kiss meant to put him in his place. Hah. As if.
Tony grinned against Loki's mouth, took a hold of the collar of his clothing and tugged him along to the place which had received the most visitors of all the rooms in the building; Tony's bedroom.
In there, he shoved at Loki for him to sit down on the bed, which he did with a slight smile of amusement, kind of like a cat being threatened by a mouse, and Tony raised a challenging eyebrow as he looked down at him. Oh he was definitely going to wipe that smirk of his face.
Tony straddled his waist and they resumed kissing, while his hands explored the lay out of Loki's unfamiliar clothing until he had finally managed to bare the pale torso and could map out the smooth skin as well. Loki might think he was a god, maybe he was, but he certainly reacted like a human when Tony's clever hands found his every sensitive spot and there was nothing divine about how devilishly good Loki's own hands felt on Tony's body.
By the time Tony had managed to open Loki's pants and slithered down to kneel between his legs, Loki's eyes were sharp with desire and he drew hard-won breaths between suffocated sounds he refused to leave his lips.
That lasted until Tony got his mouth on him and noted that, yes, every part of him was indeed cooler than the average guy, in all aspects, then Loki just couldn't hold back a faint moan at the sensation of the wet heat.
Tony almost smiled, relishing in the smug feeling of victory, but decided he wanted more and really started to work the haughty Asgardian. He pulled every trick he knew, used everything available to him- lips, tongue, sound, hands -until Loki shook apart under him with a half-choked groan breaking free and his fingers curling in Tony's hair.
Feeling almost as smug as he was turned on, Tony didn't even get to deliver his snarky line of “Was it good for you too?” when Loki yanked him up by the hair to face him, up close, looking beautifully disheveled and still out of breath, and he gave the most predatory grin Tony Stark had ever seen in his life. No man should be able to have a mind-shattering orgasm and look that hungry seconds later. It was downright unsettling. And, well, intriguing as hell.
“Now,” Loki said, making it sound more like threat than anything else, “let me show you why they call me Silvertongue.”
Yeah, okay, Tony did whimper a little at that.
Hong Kong Sanctum, Asia
“Dude, these sandwiches are awesome!” Peter Quill declared, stuffing his face with his third sandwich while sauntering into the room where Wong and Saal were cooped up.
The Sorcerer was still not awake. Wong had been doing research since they had arrived at the Sanctum, trying to uncover what had been done to him, and Saal had instantly offered to help. At first Wong had been a little suspicious, but after checking Saal's knowledge on the subject, he'd agreed to allow Saal access to some of the books and to aid in the hunt for answers.
It had become clear pretty fast that books were not Peter's thing, so he'd been set to more... practical tasks, such as doing a food-run, but Wong was wondering just how long that food would last at this rate.
“They sure didn't make stuff like this when I was a kid.” Peter continued, munching away happily as he strolled closer to where Saal was sitting next a table covered with towers of books. “Oh, and you gotta check out this thing called The Internet. It. Is. Amazing!”
Saal nodded absently, turning a page in the book he was currently reading. The Sanctum was a treasure cove of knowledge and he was eager to absorb as much as he could while he had the chance. And of course it would be quite satisfactory to be the one to solve the problem.
Peter paused in his chewing, stared at his reflection in the window and placed a pensive hand to his stomach. “You think I'm getting fat?”
Saal knew he was still hearing the echoes of Rocket's jab at him being one sandwich away from being fat during their last argument on board the Milano. “No.” He turned another page and kept reading. “But you'd be pretty either way.”
For a guy who was extremely full of himself, Peter Quill managed somehow to have severe self-esteem issues as well. One of the many paradoxes which existed inside him.
Wong glanced over at them, a little surprised, but hearing no lies in the words. Clearly Peter heard the same, lighting up with delight and sitting down on the table by Saal to keep eating.
They were an odd couple, Wong concluded. Saal was quiet, well-mannered, clearly sensitive about the scars on the side of his face and neck, but likable. Everything about him screamed military. Then there was Peter Quill; loud, messy and not any help at all. Odd couple.
A loud crash was suddenly heard out in the hallway. All three men were on their feet within a second, but Peter was the first to reach the door. “I'll check it out.”
“I'll come with you.” Saal said, before glancing over at Wong. “Protect the Sorcerer.”
Out in the hall, they quickly saw what had caused the ruckus; someone had kicked in the door.
Peter kept his hands by his guns, ready for trouble, as he carefully approached the doorway. He took in the sight of the remains of the door, wondering if that big thing they'd fought earlier had followed them there, when something shot out of the shadows to his right. Instinct made Peter twist his upper torso and he narrowly missed having a glaive impale him.
Pulling his guns, he was about to start firing at the culprit when Saal rammed into him, sending them both tumbling to the floor and out of harm's way as a shot of blue energy flew over them from his left.
Peter grunted as he hit the floor with the heavy weight of Saal on his back, but then the Xandarian was rolling away and he could get up as well, just in time to see one ugly dude emerge from the right and a tall, weird chick stepped forward from the left. Two of them? Crap. And how had they been able to track them down?
“You okay?” Peter asked, stepping closer to Saal, who had drawn his blaster as well.
“Yes. You?” Saal replied, keeping his eyes on the woman.
“Never better.” Peter took a hold of both of his guns. “Be careful.”
And he didn't just mean the fight itself, Saal knew. He could feel the Nova Force snarling under his skin, begging to be released, all of it. Nova Omega was just one bad decision away, but not today.
The woman acted first, firing another blast of blue energy from her staff, forcing Saal to dodge before he could counter the attack. Peter drew his guns and managed to fire off a couple of shots before the ugly guy was in his face and backhanded him so hard he flew through the air and slammed into a wall. The impact scrambled his brains enough for him to need a couple of seconds to recover and by then both of these assholes were going at Saal.
Clenching his jaw, Peter activated the boosters and flew towards them, firing both of his guns at the same time and forcing the two strangers to separate and take cover. He chose to go after the ugly guy, who clearly had reclaimed his glaive judging by how he nearly stabbed Peter in the face when he was close enough. It took everything he had to grab a hold of that glaive and keep it away.
Whomever these guys were, Thanos' little henchmen probably, they were damn strong! Peter had no chance to break free from the grip once that grey hand locked around his throat and he vaguely noted Saal taking a beating from that woman as well, forcing him once again to rely on the Nova Force. His eyes flared up with barely controlled energy and the woman was thrown through the room and into the one doing his best to choke the life out of Peter.
Abruptly released, Peter crumbled to the floor, coughing and rubbing his throat, trying to will away the dizziness caused by the recent lack of oxygen. He started slightly when something grabbed his upper arm, but once he realized it was Saal; he didn't fight being pulled up on his feet, picking up his guns along the way, and got in a defensive stance next to him.
The strangers were watching them, weapons ready, looking for the tiniest weakness to launch their attack. Peter wanted to glance over at Saal, wanted to know how in control of the Nova Force he was, but he knew he couldn't take his eyes away from the threat looming in front of them. These guys were out to kill, not capture. One mook he and Saal would have handled easily, but two powerful opponents like these presented a problem. They could probably hold them off for a while, but every second Saal tapped into the Nova Force was like Russian Roulette. There was a bullet in the chamber and Saal pulled the trigger every time he used it.
Out of nowhere, a shower of sharp spikes began to rain down on the strangers. “Up here!” Wong called out, standing at the top of the stairs He had barely finished with his spell before starting up a new one that had the boards in the floor turn into goo and the strangers sank down to their ankles and were stuck like flies on a glue trap.
Peter and Saal didn't hesitate. They turned and ran, heading up to where Wong was standing and followed him when he led them inside the room where the Sorcerer was lying on a bed.
“The spell,” Wong said, carrying a book tightly clutched to his chest, “I found it within one of the ancient tomes. This spell has bound Strange's mind to the other sorcerer.” He pointed a finger at Peter. “You. You carry Strange. Keep him safe.”
For once, Peter didn't argue. He merely went over and hoisted the unconscious Sorcerer over his shoulder. “Okay, now what?”
“Now we get out of here.” Wong opened a portal with a quick movement. A fiery circle opened a gate to... some place and he gestured to Peter. “Go!”
Peter went. He merely stepped through the gate, feeling that weird rush that came with teleporting, and found himself inside some unfamiliar building. Turning, he saw Saal and Wong moving to join him. Saal stepped through, but as Wong was about to do the same; an almost familiar glaive appeared out of nowhere and pierced his shoulder.
Shocked, Saal instinctively moved forward to go back, to help him, but Wong regained his balance against all odds and used his one functional hand to throw the book through the portal, into his arms, stopping him, and stated; “As long as the one who cast the spell is alive, the Sorcerer won't wake up. You are going to need Stephen Strange to defeat Thanos. Good luck.”
And then he closed the portal just as he was yanked backwards by the glaive.
For a moment, they were both too stunned to do anything but stare at where the portal had been, where Wong had been, but then Peter hoisted the man about to slide off his shoulder and glanced around. “Where are we...?”
Saal swallowed hard, still staring at where he'd seen Wong disappear. “No idea.”
Wherever they were, it was unlike anything they'd ever seen; especially that huge statue of a black panther outside of the building.
Clint and Natasha: https://archiveofourown.org/works/13047543/chapters/29844429
Peter Quill and Garthan Saal: https://archiveofourown.org/series/149667
Kudos and comments will be treasured like Infinity Stones!
Peter and Saal has arrived in Wakanda, Eddie needs sleep and an unwanted visitor arrives in New York.
Just as the sun was coming up over the horizon, Steve caught up with Sam for the second time on their run and joined him for the final stretch towards the entrance of the building they were staying. While Sam was heaving for air, Steve sauntered casually next to him when they finally stepped inside and his heart did that little jump it always did at the sight of him when he saw Bucky come walking towards them from the opposite side of the long hallway.
Sam pressed a towel to his sweaty face and glanced over at Steve. “So, you tell his pale ass yet?”
Sending him a look, Steve tried and failed to act nonchalant. “What...? I don't know what you're talking about?” He then got a concerned look and glanced back at the approaching Bucky. “Pale? He's not been feeling well?”
Sam rolled his eyes, too tired to deal with this drama, and merely met Bucky's reserved greeting of; “Wilson.” with a drawn-out; “Mmmhmm.” and headed for the shower.
Steve grinned as Bucky paused next to him to scowl after Sam. “A little late to join our morning run, Buck.”
Bucky turned his attention to him, giving him a deadpan look. “I'm still healing from being stabbed, remember?”
“I remember Saal healing you.” Steve countered with a slight smile. Some things never changed.
Laughing a little, Bucky made no effort to pretend he had done anything but wiggled his way out of that dreaded morning jog. And in that moment, with his blue eyes flashing with mischief and his lips curling into a smug smile, Bucky took Steve's breath away and Steve had to turn his focus elsewhere. Otherwise, he might just do what Sam had said and Bucky did not need more pressure. Steve stared up at the end of the hallway and then frowned a little when he saw several Wakandian guards run by. They seemed to be in a hurry and they were all armed. “What's going on?”
Bucky turned to look. He frowned as well when more guards ran by. “No idea.” He glanced over at Steve. “Let's go find out.”
Following the guards, Steve simply had to point out that Bucky seemed to have no trouble running after all, to which he countered that this was an emergency and thus didn't count, but the smile they shared over the exchange was quickly banished when they came through a doorway to find a whole bunch of Wakandian guards gathered around some threat.
“What's going on?” Steve asked the nearest guard.
“Intruders.” The guard replied in a tense voice. “We are waiting for the King. They claim to know him.”
Steve and Bucky glanced at each other, then began to weave between guards to have a peek at whoever this was but the mystery quickly resolved itself when a loud voice proclaimed: “Come on! I've told you we're on your side, you jackasses! Also, I'm not wearing this dude over my shoulder because it's cold. He's heavy, ok? I need to put him down soon or risk injury.”
“Quill?” Steve made his way through the guards and was surprised to find Peter Quill, with the so-called Sorcerer over his shoulder, and a pale Saal standing by his side. “What are you guys doing here?”
“The Sanctum was attacked. There were two of them.” Saal explained in a voice tainted with resignation. “Wong sent us here. To safety. He didn't...”
Having only briefly met Wong, Steve still felt a jab of loss at the news. They had so few allies in this war and they needed every good man they could recruit. He stepped in front of Peter and Saal, lifting a hand to the guards. “It's okay. They are on our side.”
One guard lifted a spear and held it in a threatening gesture towards Steve's throat. “You have no say here. We wait for the word of our king.”
Bucky moved over to stand next to Steve. “Calm down. We'll all wait for T'Challa, okay? He'll vouch for them too.”
And minutes later, he did exactly that.
The guards parted to let T'Challa approach them and he seemed as surprised as Steve to see Peter and Saal there. Once he heard what had happened, he frowned displeased. “These attacks are becoming troublesome.”
“We need a plan.” Steve said. “If they managed to track them to Hong Kong, they're going to be able to track them here as well.”
“Indeed.” T'Challa paused to think for a few moments before he turned to the impatient Peter. “I will have my guards escort you and your friend to our labs. We need to learn more about that stone around his neck. Maybe it can aid us in some way.”
Peter glanced over at Saal, who nodded, then focused on T'Challa again and shrugged. “Fine.”
“Captain, White Wolf, can you gather the others?” T'Challa asked.
“We're on it.” Steve said, nudged Bucky and they headed back towards the guest rooms.
The room was quiet, so quiet that if not for the fact that she saw his shape sitting on the bed, Shuri would have thought it was empty. Instead she tightened her grip on the datapad in her left hand and felt the old resentment bubble in her throat at the very sight of Helmut Zemo.
He was still dressed in the dark clothing her brother had granted him upon his release from his cell. Sitting at the head of the bed, one leg stretched out on the mattress, one leg drawn up and resting his wrist on the knee, the man was staring emptily ahead, but only until she stepped inside and she saw him shift his dead gaze her way. He quietly watched as she approached the bed, then went back to staring straight ahead at nothing when she came to a halt next to him.
While Shuri had no doubt she'd be able to bring down her father's murderer in close combat, it still felt wrong to be so close to him without anything chaining him down. Partially because he didn't deserve to be free, but also because her instincts warned her that this was a dangerous man. Nothing was more dangerous than someone with nothing left to lose and no conscience.
“I'm here to look at your trackers.” Shuri had refused to send someone in her place, even though the thought of being near Zemo made her itch for blood. “There seems to be some problem with the one on your right arm.”
Zemo merely lifted his arm and held it towards her, hand clenched into a fist, bracelet exposed. He did not look at her.
Frowning, Shuri reluctantly shifted her own gaze from his blank face to the bracelet on his wrist and was surprised to see several deep cuts into it. Whatever had done this had been strong enough to dent vibranium. She lifted her datapad and pulled up the schematics on the tracker, seeing some disturbance in the signal. “Did you try to remove it? It won't work.”
“It saved my life.” Zemo stated with no small amount of wry amusement.
Shuri stared at him for a couple of seconds, trying to decide whether he was just messing with her or not, but realized he wasn't. It was the first time she resented the durability of vibranium. “Too bad.” She muttered and did some adjustments on the screen.
Zemo let out a slight snort and nodded a little absently. “Yeah...”
Stealing a glance at him, Shuri saw he meant it and she remembered what she had read in his file and what her brother had told her about him. Zemo lost someone too. But his grief had turned ugly and cost them her father. She turned her gaze back to the screen, continuing her adjustments there. “Tell me about your family.”
That made him snap his face up to actually look at her. He'd not been prepared for that. He stared at her for a while, then turned his face away. “No.”
“You murdered my father.” Shuri stated. “Tell me about your family.”
Zemo clenched his jaw hard, his shoulders tensed up, and the trackers showed Shuri on the screen how his stress levels were rising. He forced out: “What do you want to know?”
“I want to know why you did what you did when it would not bring them back.” She lifted her gaze from the screen and studied him, seeing the familiar pain and sorrow over losing family.
He hesitated, lost in the memories of his father, his wife and son, lost in the agony of knowing he'd never see them again, never hear their voices or hold them close, and finally he whispered so quietly that she barely heard it; “Because I told them they were safe there.”
Shuri lowered the datapad. It didn't change anything, it didn't excuse what he'd done, it wasn't a valid reason, not really, but she could see how the guilt could turn grief into madness.
A faint shiver went through Zemo and his eyes went dead again as he shut down, withdrawing from the pain and her presence.
Sighing, Shuri put the datapad on the nightstand by the bed and reached out to unlock the damaged bracelet. She noted he didn't move his arm even after it was freed, merely kept it there while she tinkered on the bracelet and then put it back on. Only then did he lower his arm.
She reached out and checked the locks on the other bracelet, saw no damage there, and then checked the one around his neck. He didn't flinch or react at all.
That was when the door opened and T'Challa stepped inside. “Shuri, are you done with your repairs? We are having a meeting. I would like for him to attend.”
Nodding, Shuri straightened and picked up her datapad. “He's all yours, brother, but you will have to send him up to the lab some time. I'm going to need to replace that tracker.”
After Cap had 'summoned' them to a meeting, Clint trailed after Nat through the door that brought them to a large room with a huge, round table in the middle. Sam, Bucky, Eddie, Okoye and the two guys from space were already there. He decided to settle next to the alien he knew. “Eddie. Venom.” Clint greeted, even though there was no sign of the black goo, pulling out the chair next to the reporter and sat down.
Eddie was wearing sunglasses for some reason and one grumpy expression. “Clint.”
Lifting an eyebrow, Clint felt a flicker of concern. It was easy to forget amongst these other seasoned fighters that Eddie was new to this game of violence. “Hey, you okay?”
And there Venom emerged, a black snake stretching from Eddie's shoulder to hover in front of Clint's face with its fangy smile. “He's just upset because he got off three times last night.”
Eddie started, yanking off his sunglasses and glaring at the symbiote. He'd clearly not gotten much sleep, judging by the dark circles under his eyes. “Venom! Seriously!”
Clint had most definitely not been prepared for that answer, but he found himself overcoming the surprise a lot faster than he probably should and tilted his head a little with curiosity instead. “Okay, but... why is that making him cranky?” Three times sounded pretty sweet to him.
Venom squinted his eyes a little, lowering his voice. ”It took a very long time. Very. Long. Time. And he wouldn't do four.”
“Venom!” Eddie hissed, while Clint choked on a surprised laugh. “Privacy, Venom! We don't say whatever comes to our mind to everyone, remember? We talked about this!”
”But we like Clint.”
“I don't care!” Eddie snapped, adding a brief, “No offense, Clint.” and rambled on once the archer gave an understanding nod. “And I wasn't like I couldn't do four, it was just that we needed to rest as we're in the middle of an alien invasion. Remember that?”
”You humans are so uptight.” Venom vanished under his skin again.
Clint put on a dainty smile, unable to resist a golden opportunity to troll someone. “So. Eddie. Want to talk about it?”
Eddie put on his sunglasses again. “No.” He cleared his throat. “Maybe later.”
Before Clint could come with a new remark, the main door opened and Steve, T'Challa and surprisingly enough; Zemo, entered the room. Steve made a beeline for Bucky while the king of Wakanda moved over to stand at the head of the table. Zemo remained just inside the door, while everyone else found a seat. Clint was a little reassured when Nat claimed the chair next to him.
“We have a problem,” T'Challa began, getting straight to the point, “and I fear we have little time to prepare. It appears that these invaders can track the Infinity Stones. They attacked the Hong Kong Sanctum and I believe they will soon follow it to Wakanda. From what Peter and Saal has described, it sounds like the two we met in the Hydra base.”
“In addition, there is the beast we encountered in the parking lot,” Steve added, “and the sorcerer who put Strange in a coma.”
“We should expect Thanos at any moment as well.” Saal warned quietly, arms crossed and pale. “And he may not arrive alone. The Chitauri are just one of many who follow him.”
“Increase security. Prepare our army. Send word to M'Baku and the others, ask for their aid.” T'Challa ordered.
Okoye made a slight bow. “My king.” And left the room.
“Our only advantage right now is that Thanos has no idea that one of the stones are hidden.” Steve said.
Clint, uncomfortable with the knowledge of what was inside him, shook his head a little. “What are we talking about here? What'll happen if Thanos gets all the stones?” Just how much responsibility was placed on him?
Peter, serious for once, met his gaze. “He has something called The Infinity Glove. If he gets all the stones he can use that to end the existence of half the life in the entire universe.”
Clint struggled to breathe, only distantly aware of Nat's hand on his shoulder.
To everyone's surprise, T'Challa glanced over his shoulder, back at Zemo, who for a moment looked the most surprised of them all. “What are your thoughts?”
Quickly recovering, the Sokovian moved closer to T'Challa to stand next to him, but his gaze landed on Saal. “How strong are you?”
Saal blinked, a little uncertain how to answer that question. “I... The Nova Force is powerful.”
“You threw that big creature through a building like he weighed nothing. Can you do that again?”
“Yes.” Saal ignored Peter's warning hand on his thigh. “Going up against one is not a problem, but several at the same time is taxing. Controlling the Nova Force isn't easy. It's unstable.”
Zemo's focus shifted over to Peter. “And you? Do you have any powers?”
Peter opened his mouth and closed it a couple of times. He ended up with a light shrug, feeling like a complete loser. “Being awesome?”
Zemo instantly lost interest in him and turned his attention to Eddie Brock. “Your suit-”
“He's not a suit,” Eddie interrupted him, a sharpness to his voice. “We are more than a suit.”
“You bit the arm off one of them,” Zemo continued as if Eddie hadn't spoken, “and that proves they can be hurt. Are you strong enough to kill one of them?”
Eddie hesitated, blinked, looked to the side, mumbled something, listened, mumbled something else, then turned back to Zemo. “With a little luck, sure.”
The Sokovian then did a scan of the people around the table, knowing everything about the Avengers and all of them staring at him with disdain. He did some quick calculations. “My suggestion: There are three heavy hitters here. Three enhanced individuals; Saal, Venom and Captain America. They are our weapons. In the middle tier; T'Challa and Barnes, good fighters, the vibranium gives you advantage. You are defense, keep them off Venom and Rogers. Saal only if he needs help. Lower tier, that's the rest of this group; the human distraction. Don't bother going in for the kill, you won't make it, go in hard and get out quick. The job will be to keep them scattered, wear them down, keep their focus off the weapons and yourselves alive. If Thanos brings in an army, remember to go after the generals, don't waste time with the pawns, leave them to the Wakandian soldiers. The pawns will withdraw when there is no one to lead them. Cut the head off and two won't grow back.”
Silence followed his words. There were plenty of frowns around the table.
“Are we seriously going to take orders from this guy?” Sam eventually asked, clearly not loving the idea. “Seriously?”
T'Challa shrugged and leaned back in his seat, all ease and grace, holding his palms up briefly to show he was open to debate. “Do you have a better plan?”
Sam grumbled. “No...”
“We are going to need something to hit them with.” Natasha said, eyes on T'Challa. “Clint and Sam are both ranged fighters. And none of our weapons did much of an impression on that big beast.”
“It will be made available to you.” T'Challa reassured her.
“Question.” Eddie raised his hand. “Shouldn't we get Clint out of here, if Strange's stone is going to lead these guys to Wakanda? I thought you were the guy who said the stones shouldn't be in one place?”
“Ideally, yes.” Zemo said. He sent Clint the remnants of a sharp smile. “But his personality traits tells me he's not going to agree to going into hiding, is he?” When the archer confirmed this, Zemo's point was made. “They don't know of his importance so he'll not be a priority to them. But I do suggest you don't put him on the front line.”
“Okay, so let's say we somehow manage to kick ass and Thano's and his crew are forced to retreat,” Sam said, “what's going to prevent them from regrouping and coming back? Wouldn't it be easier if we destroyed these stones? That's one way he's not getting them to his precious glove?”
T'Challa nodded thoughtfully. “I'm inclined to agree, but there is something preventing my technichians from removing the stone from Stephen Strange. And we have no idea how to summon the stone from Barton.”
“Maybe it'll disappear with me if I...” Clint began, reluctantly, feeling Nat's harsh stare.
Steve cut him off. “Nobody is dying.” Trading Clint's life was not an option. “But finding a way to destroy these things is definitely something to look into.”
“It would require an enormous amount of power.” Saal said, a little distantly, and Peter Quill got an even more worried look on his face.
The Avengers Compound, USA
Tony fastened his pants and picked up his t-shirt from the bedroom floor. He turned to wave the shirt in an admonishing move at Loki still lounging in bed, barely covered by the sheets. “Nono, science will excel magic any day!”
Loki grinned, radiating a smooth confidence that Tony wished didn't look so damn good on him. (So good that he almost wanted to jump him for a third time.) “Care to test that theory some day, Mr. Stark?”
Tony found himself grinning as well. “Any time, buddy.”
The bedroom door slid open behind Tony and Pepper didn't even look up from her pile of papers as she stalked into the room. “Tony, where have you been? Never mind I don't want to know. You have to...”
Several things happened at once. Loki's grin widened, Tony got the deer-caught-in-headlights look and Pepper peeked up and saw what she'd just walked in on. She froze, eyes wide as she stared at Loki, then sent Tony an absolutely shocked look. “Isn't that...?”
Tony cringed a little. “Technically, yes, but-” He didn't get to finish as she spun around on her heel and marched out of the room. Tony sent the overly amused Loki a harsh glare before running after her. “Pepper. Wait. I can explain...”
A little while later, when he was heading back to the room, Tony was struggling with several feelings at once. A part of him was hurt that Pepper had been surprised and dismayed at him dabbling with Loki, but not jealous or even hurt like he was. When she had declared they worked better as friends, that she still loved him but as a friend, she'd clearly meant it. Another part of him was relieved that no matter how badly he messed up, Pepper still wouldn't abandon him. She'd once claimed he wouldn't be able to make it without her, he knew it was true. She'd been his north star while he was stumbling around in his dark life, looking for direction. She was too good for him, he knew, but it still stung deep inside.
Loki had found his way out of the bed by the time Tony returned, just in time to see fashionable black and green clothing slowly cover his skin thanks to his sneaky magic.
“That's cheating.” Tony muttered.
Loki shrugged. It wasn't the first time someone had accused him of cheating and it wouldn't be the last. Who cared whether one cheated or not, as long as one achieved the intended goal.
“Jarvis,” Tony called out, “any messages from Banner?”
“No message as of yet, sir.” The AI responded out of nowhere, and Tony's mood improved a little when he saw Loki jump like a startled cat, trying to discover where the sound came from.
He was about to throw a sarcastic remark when the massive windows in the room exploded. Loki was flung towards Tony, missing him by inches, and slammed into the wall next to the door. Tony himself stumbled backwards, shielding his face, and yelled out for Jarvis to activate safety protocols. By the time Loki had scrambled back up on his feet, the Iron Man suit was almost fully built around Tony, but both men were staring at the stranger, one clearly not human, hovering just outside of the window. Calling him ugly would be an affront to all ugly creatures.
“Loki Odison,” the stranger said, his voice every bit as strange as his face, cheerful and light, “we meet again. You left rather abruptly during our last conversation.”
Loki was all tension, looking ready to rip the guy's throat out with his bare teeth.
“But you forgot something,” Ebony Maw continued, equally pleasantly, giving a light wave with his hand. Kneeling behind him, Thor appeared, bound and bloody, muffled, but alive and glaring.
Loki twitched before he managed to slip on his neutral face, sticking his chin out in quiet defiance.
“Give me the stone.” Maw said.
“Yeah, no, don't think so.” Tony interrupted, holding out his palms, ready to blast the noseless Voldemort-wannabe into oblivion.
Thanos' minion made another gesture with his hand and suddenly Thor was surrounded by what looked like massive ice needles. “Give me. The stone.”
Loki hesitated. He stared at Thor, saw him shake his head, knew what he should do versus what he wanted to do. Thor shook his head again, ordering Loki with his eyes not to give in.
Something similar to a smile appeared on Maw's face and he slowly closed his hand into a fist, drawing the needles closer and closer until they burrowed into Thor and despite his best efforts; the blond couldn't prevent the agonized sound from escaping behind his muzzle. “What will it be, Asgardian? The stone or your brother's life?”
Tony cast a quick look over at Loki, not surprised to see him struggling to appear unfazed, but that lasted only until Thor shook with a choked scream and blood began to drip from the muzzle.
“Stop!” Loki snapped, taking a step forward. “Just... stop.” He held his own hand out and closed his pale fingers around the hilt of the infamous scepter as it materialized in his grasp.
Maw reached out his hand. Loki stepped closer and surrendered the scepter to him. “But you won't win, Maw.”
“I have never failed Thanos,” Ebony informed him, studying the Mind Stone, “and I do not intend to do so on this filthy planet.” He lowered the scepter and touched Thor's chest with it.
Tony's eyes widened as he saw the unnatural blue flash in Thor's eyes. “Oh no...”
The door opened and Okoye stalked inside. She ignored the puzzled look from all the others surrounding the table, merely walked over to T'Challa. “My king. I think you should see this.”
She placed a datapad on the table and activated it. The screen came to life and showed shaky footage of what appeared to be swirling dust, rubble and a lot of electricity. It was a news report from New York.
“So far we have no information as to who or what has attacked the Avengers Compound,” the news anchor said, “but witnesses report enormous amount of lightning strikes and Iron Man has been observed doing battle. Some reports even claim sightings of the alien known as Loki, but this has yet to be confirmed.”
Steve got up from his chair, deathly pale. “Tony...”
Tony's in trouble, Bucky decides to get some answers and things go from bad to worse.
A bit of a monster-sized chapter this time, so I broke it up into one big chapter and one mini bonus chapter!
“We have to help him.” Steve turned to T'Challa. “Your planes. How fast can they get us to New York?”
“Not fast enough.” T'Challa answered, staring at the screen with uncomfortable helplessness. “It will still take us hours.”
Making a frustrated sound, Steve struggled to find some way he could keep Tony alive. Surely Rhodes would do whatever he could to help his friend, but Steve was still desperate to help.
“Wong explained the basics to me,” Saal said, getting up, “I could try to open a portal.”
Peter Quill jumped to his feet, not over the previous shock before he was hit with this one. “What?”
Steve turned to face him with eager hope all over his face. “You think you can do it?”
“I can try.” Was Saal's reply, which wasn't very reassuring to Peter.
“I'll come with you!” Steve insisted and now it was Bucky's turn to look worried.
Saal shook his head. “I don't think that's a good idea. Like I said; Wong only explained the basics. I don't know how safe it will be until I've gone through myself and I don't know how much it's going to cost me to bring your friend back with me.”
Peter scoffed, yanking at his arm and shaking his head. “How about 'this is not happening'?”
“The Nova Force will protect me.” Saal tried to reassure him.
“You hope!” Peter shot back, not convinced. “What if-”
“I'll be fine.” Saal insisted with gentle iron in his voice.
Knowing there was no way to change his mind, Peter took Saal's face between his hands and pulled him down into a kiss with touch of desperation. “Don't you dare fuck this up,” he whispered against his lips, “or I'm coming after you. Death or going Nova Omega will be the least of your problems.”
Steve blinked surprised, his eyebrows somewhere up by his hairline at that very public display of blatant affection. Clearly they dabbled in more than friendship, he concluded, and for some reason Steve cast a quick glance over at Bucky. He was showing no signs of dismay at the sight.
Saal gave an amused smile before he stole a kiss of his own and stepped away. He reached out for the datapad. “May I borrow that?”
T'Challa handed it to him.
Studying the images of the Avengers Compound, picturing himself there, reaching out, just like Wong had described it, Saal felt the Nova Force responding to his wish. He put the datapad down on the table, clenched his hands before thrusting them out towards a corner of the room.
Sparks flickered mid-air there. It was like an engine catching, dying out and then catching again. It took Saal several tries, once a portal opened a few inches before closing again, but finally he managed to open one and keep it open; giving them a window into what was going on and the sight of a clearly battered Iron Man suit rushing by.
Saal drew a deep breath and jumped through before it could sputter out again. He barely managed before the portal closed, but not before Steve saw Thor aim a pillar of lightning at Tony and the image disappeared just before impact.
“Did you see that?” Bucky asked and Steve nodded.
“Why would Thor attack Tony?” Clint asked, just as an uncomfortable suspicion stabbed him in the stomach. “Unless Loki used the scepter...”
T'Challa got up. “I think we need to prepare for battle.”
“I think that would be wise.” Steve agreed, trying hard to convince himself there was no way Thor would kill Tony, “It seems we're approaching the end game now.” He reached out a hand and placed it on the shoulder of Peter Quill, who was staring at where Saal had disappeared with a pained look on his face. When he glanced over, Steve gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.
Peter managed a faint smile of gratitude.
Avengers Compound, USA
The HUD flickered as the lightning kept interfering and Tony was slightly worried about how much more damage his suit could take before he'd be in real trouble. At first he'd thought that Thor not having his hammer meant that it would be an easy battle, but he'd been proven wrong. Horribly wrong. If anything, the guy seemed even more powerful without it.
If Loki hadn't warned him and pushed him out of the way of that initial lightning strike, Tony's suit would probably have been fried for good. The strike had demolished most of the ceiling and several walls. He felt a sickly relief at the knowledge that Pepper had left the building when she had and was at a safe distance from the Compound.
Firing off a blast at the ugly dude who had caused this mess, Tony cursed angrily when Maw shielded himself with a part of the rubble with a light wave of his hand, wondering why all magic-users had to be cheaters.
Absurdly enough, an incoming call appeared on his HUD and Tony accepted it while rolling away from blocks of concrete trying to squish him. “Kid. This is not a good time.”
“Mr. Stark, are you okay?” Peter Parker's voice was high pitched with worry. “It's all over the news. What's going on?”
“A slight case of alien invasion. I got it covered.”
“Are you sure? I could-”
“No!” Tony interrupted, firing off his blasters and missing yet again. “No, you stay right where you are. Stay! Say hi to Aunt May. I'll call you later.” He hung up before Peter could protest. He was not getting the boy into the line of fire. Not with these guys. It was one thing to invite him into dealing with people he knew would never kill someone on Tony's side, but this was a completely different ballgame.
He'd felt bad enough for the bruises Peter had ended up with. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if Peter died because he wanted to help Tony Stark save the world.
The HUD flashed with an incoming call yet again and he was just about to dismiss it, Peter was not going to change his mind, when he saw it was actually Rhodey. He accepted the call. “Rhodey!”
“Tony, man, what the hell is going on?”
“Slight case of alien invasion,” Tony repeated, “so where the hell are you?”
“I'm in Vienna, Tony, I told you about this last week, remember?” There was a frantic touch to Rhodey's voice. “Are you okay? Do you need me to send someone?”
Tony grunted as a large rock bounced off his shoulder and he stumbled backwards, constantly firing at the hovering guy who kept dodging and using objects to block his shots. “Nono, I got this.” He wasn't having soldier's lives on his conscience either, thank you very much. “Gotta go.”
Hanging up before Rhodey could reply, Tony had just enough time to brace himself before lightning rammed into him and turned everything into light and then quiet darkness.
He had no idea how long he was out of it, but a throbbing headache and twitching limbs brought Tony back. Since his first fight against Thor, he'd put in safety measures against electricity based attacks, but this... this was too powerful. With a faint groan, Tony opened his eyes, saw the flickering HUD struggling to stay online, heard fighting going on nearby, and suddenly a fiery ring opened at the other side of the more or less destroyed room.
Tony's scrambled mind could only conjure up a simple; 'Huh' when a tall, dark haired man came through it, closing it behind him, and it took Tony two full seconds before the scars on the guy's face allowed him to recognize him as one of those two they'd met in Sokovia. Saal was it?
Glancing around, spotting Tony, the guy instantly headed over to him and knelt down next to him. “Tony Stark. Are you hurt? Can you move?”
“I'm okay,” Tony groaned, getting up on his knees and seeing the warnings Jarvis was listing up on his HUD, “never better. What are you doing here?”
“I've come to bring you to Wakanda.”
“That's nice,” Tony said, feeling dizzy and shaking his head in an effort to clear his mind, “but I don't think I got my passport on me.”
Saal tried to make sense of what he'd just said, scout for the presence of Thanos' minions and wonder if he would be able to bring them back to Wakanda in one piece. “What?”
“Nevermind,” Tony said, “we have to find-”
His words were interrupted by a heavy lightning strike nearby. The boom was deafening and left Saal with a ringing noise in his ears, but he still could hear someone in a whole lot of pain amidst it. He was surprised by how it made Tony struggle to his feet and hurry towards whoever it was.
Scrambling around a barely standing wall, Tony found Loki on the ground, flanked by Maw and an expressionless Thor. Electricity was still crackling around Loki from the attack his brother had launched on him, making his limbs twitch and him struggling to breathe through the pain.
“Where is the Space Stone?” Maw asked pleasantly, fingers stapled together under his chin.
Loki tried to push himself up, failed and tried again, shivering. “Honestly?” He glanced up, a trail of blood from a cut in his temple very visible against his pale skin, and a ghost of a smile could be seen on his lips. “I can't remember. Must've lost it somewhere. Awfully careless of me.”
Ebony Maw frowned displeased and lifted a hand to signal Thor and a new pillar of lightning struck Loki; flinging him through the air and against a wall.
Tony looked over at Saal. “Wakanda, huh? You can open one of those magical Circle of Life things?” With them gone, there would be no reason for Maw to continue his attack.
Saal wondered briefly if the man ever made sense when he spoke. “What?”
Tony sighed. “Just... be ready to get us the hell out of here. Can you do that?”
Saal didn't look very convincing. “I will try.”
“Great,” Tony sighed. He did some quick calculations, then he rushed forward and aimed for Ebony Maw. “Hey! Squidward!”
Peter Quill felt sick with worry. For the first time since he'd met Gamora on Xandar, he was completely alone and he knew Garthan Saal was tempting fate by using the Nova Force in a way that could end in nothing but misery. Hell, Peter was so desperate he even wished Yondu was here for some advice or just to distract him.
What was taking the Guardians so long anyway? They were supposed to bring the Asgardian survivors to a safe haven and then haul ass to join up with him and Saal. Why hadn't they arrived yet?
Weapons were being brought to the room, everyone preparing for a possible battle, one they were definitely going to win, but Peter merely kept waiting for that circle to open again and couldn't make himself consider what he was going to do if it didn't.
“Hey, are you doing okay?” Steve Rogers asked, looking almost as concerned as Peter felt.
Forcing a smile, Star Lord nodded. “Yeah, yeah... He'll be fine.”
The words had barely been spoken before sparks emerged from nothing and a portal sputtered to life where Saal had disappeared earlier. Like before, it took a couple of tries before it caught on, then it opened fully and before Peter could do anything; a shape came through. Loki stumbled away from the portal, one arm firmly wrapped around his lower torso, and with several cuts and bruises on his face. He was immediately followed by the familiar sight of the Iron Man suit, but this one was almost as battered and bruised as Loki, it's metal scorched in some places. And, finally, the even more familiar shape of Centurion Saal came through, but Peter's relief turned back into worry as Saal collapsed the second the portal closed behind him.
Steve rushed over to Tony, asking if he was okay, asking what had happened, asking all sorts of questions, while Clint stared at Loki with no attempt at hiding how disappointed he was that he'd survived. Peter gathered the crumbled Saal in his arms, turning him over on his back so he could rest against Peter's chest, gently stroking away his hair from his sweaty forehead while trying to ignore how Saal was twitching and struggling to stay in control of the Nova Force. “Stay with me, big boy. Stay with me.”
“They got Thor.” Tony's face was revealed as the Iron Man mask opened. “They made Loki give up the scepter and used it on Thor.”
Almost everyone turned their attention to Loki, who had one hand on the back of a chair while the other was still pressed to his ribs, and he was staring at the floor with a distraught look on his face.
“He didn't have much of a choice,” Tony sighed, “as they would've killed Thor if he hadn't.”
“It was the wizard,” Saal managed to say, his eyes shining unsteadily with an unnatural glow, “the one who is keeping the Sorcerer Supreme in a coma.” He tried to sit up, but only managed when Peter helped him. “We have to... kill him.”
Tony exhaled a wry laugh. “Of course. Why didn't you just do that back there? Or maybe you want us to go back now?”
“Listen,” Peter said, his voice strained, deceptively calm, “he can't do that again.”
Saal shook his head, exhausted to the verge of complete collapse and with faint flickers of energy sparking from his skin. “I'm okay. I can fight.”
“No.” Peter cut him off with that single and sharp word, then looked directly at Steve. “No, he can't. It's putting too much strain on him. It's too dangerous.”
“Peter...” Saal got up, unsteadily. “I...”
“No!” Peter shot up and glared at him, and for the first time there was genuine fury in his voice as he spoke to his partner. “I'm sorry that you lost Xandar, I really am, and the way things are going; we might lose Earth too, but I'm NOT losing YOU!”
Steve abruptly realized these two were not only lovers but also deeply and inescapably in love.
Saal let out a soft exhale, some of the tension bleeding out of him, and he placed a hand behind Peter's neck to pull him into a hug.
Allowing the embrace, Peter soaked in the affection for a moment to calm himself down, then turned his gaze over at Steve again. “When Thanos destroyed Saal's planet, all those souls and that energy they call the Nova Force was rammed into Saal. He can use parts of it, but too much and it will destroy his mind.”
~Nova Omega~ Venom sounded worried again and that made Eddie worried. “What is Nova Omega?” He asked them. ~Really bad news, Eddie. Dangerous.~
“A creature of immense powers, set on destroying the universe,” Saal replied, “created by someone overcome with the Nova Force.” He absently drew a hand through Peter's hair, soothing himself as much as Starlord with the touch. “In other words; me, if I can't control my powers.”
“So if you can't control your powers,” Clint mused, “you will be the one to kill us all?”
“I won't let that happen.” Peter stated stubbornly.
Drawing both of his hands through his hair, Steve let out a heavy sigh. Things just kept getting worse! “They will be coming here next. We have to prepare. For them and for Thanos.”
“I tried to tell you though, didn't I?” Tony snapped, bottled up anger finally seeping through due to the strain of nearly being killed by a man-god he considered his friend, whom he had just left behind at the mercy of that bastard Maw. “All these years, I've been screaming my head off that we needed to prepare for this day, but you wouldn't listen. Isn't that right, Cap? You were too busy running around being righteous, giving speeches and orders, and then throwing everything away for that guy.” He choked out a harsh laugh. “I tried to warn all of you!”
Steve flinched, but didn't back down. He most definitely didn't like how Bucky lowered his gaze to stare at the floor, radiating guilt. Steve regretted a lot of things, but not saving Bucky. Despite what Buck thought, Steve knew he was worth it. There were too few good men in the world and Bucky was a good man. “I always knew I could trust you with the Avengers, Tony. You didn't need me.”
“You really don't see it, do you?” Tony said, baffled that Steve truly didn't understand. “That's exactly it; I did need you.” On his own, talking about preparing for more alien invasions, he'd merely been labeled as crazy. His PTSD had come back, they said. (Truth be told, it had never gone away.) His lack of sleep and intense focus on improving his suits and other defensive measures only fueled the rumors that he had completely lost it.
With Steve Rogers on his side, people would have listened. It wouldn't have been all on Tony's shoulders.
And with Steve's help, maybe he wouldn't have been so haunted by the idea of dying alone adrift in the never-ending darkness of space.
An arm then slid around his chest, anchoring him against a cool form behind him. “Calm down,” Loki's silky voice ordered. “Breathe.”
Tony hadn't been aware of just how badly he was shaking, how hard it was to breathe, he was merely lost in the feeling of his heart racing so quickly he was certain it would explode at any moment. How ironic that he was going to die before Thanos even arrived.
“Breathe.” Loki repeated.
Tony closed his eyes and tried to obey.
“Mr. Stark. Loki.” T'Challa said, “you two should let my doctors aid you and try to get some rest before the time to fight comes.”
Managing a couple of deep breaths, regaining control, Tony shook his head with a wry smile. “I don't need a doctor. I need a work place.”
“I can-” Saal began, about to offer his healing powers, but Peter elbowed him hard, hissing; “Shut up.”
“Whatever you need,” T'Challa conceded, gesturing for one of the guards to show Tony the way.
Loki released him, dismissed Tony's frown of concern for his slightly hunched posture of physical discomfort and merely placed his hand to his ribs again. Pain was nothing new to him.
Tony stepped close to Loki, making him meet his eyes and showing him he meant what was about to say; “He will be okay.”
“I know.” Loki tried and failed at a smile. “I doubt anything can kill that oaf. I've seen countless creatures try.”
But they both knew that Thor was very much capable of suffering.
Tony nodded, patting Loki's arm lightly. “Come see me when you're patched up.” And he trailed after the Wakandian guard out of the room.
T'Challa placed his hands flat on the table and leaned forward with a sigh. “The fight is coming to Wakanda. I have increased the number of patrols and our sensors are activated. So, upgrade your weapons, be ready and try to conserve your strength until the call for battle is sounded. Remember, this is one fight we will not be able to run away from. We have to win this.”
Somber nods and quiet murmuring followed his words. Some did indeed go for the weapons, others who did not need anything, like Eddie and Loki, left the room.
Sam was in the middle of checking out a gun when Zemo appeared next to him. He side-eyed the Sokovian and knew he deserved a fucking medal for not shooting the bastard where he stood. Sam still could feel the ghost of Bucky's fingers digging into his throat before he was thrown through the room back then when Zemo had been pulling his strings. “What?”
“I got an assignment for you when the fighting starts.” Zemo said.
Out in the hallway, Eddie had disappeared through a door, but Loki didn't get that far before a familiar voice called out behind him. “Hey.”
Loki paused, weighed the discomfort of his broken ribs against the curiosity of what would drive Clint Barton to seek him out voluntarily. As usual, his curiosity won. Loki turned around in a smooth move and put on an accommodating smile. “Yes?”
The archer was radiating uneasiness, but there was also the stubbornness in his eyes which had caught Loki's attention during their first meeting. “Why?”
“There are so many answers I could give to that, so you're going to have to be more specific I'm afraid.” Loki kept on smiling, but he also warily registered the movement barely visible behind Barton. The Black Widow had not lost her cloaking skills. If he hadn't been on red alert since the Compound, that woman would have been able to sneak up on him again. There were no lack of people who wanted to slit Loki's throat, but she was the only one he feared might actually manage to get close enough to do it.
“Why me? Why hide the stone in me? Why not Selvig? Or anyone else?” Clint asked.
Loki got a strange expression on his face, part condescension and part admiration. “I told you once, remember? You got heart.” He tilted his head. “You are surrounded by loud and visible warriors so people tend to forget about you, little bird. But I know how strong you have to be to live among Titans and survive.”
Clint frowned, unsettled. “Can you remove it?”
“No.” Loki was getting tired of this conversation. “If I was to remove the stone, Thanos would be able to find it. It's safer where it is.”
“Why don't you use it?” There was an accusation in Clint's voice now.
Loki exhaled a weary smile, shaking his head. “I used the Mind Stone and it convinced me to attack your city and try to kill my brother. I'm not going to challenge the Space Stone.” He turned away, aiming to slink away.
“We're not done, you know.” Clint shouted after him. “I still owe you for making me your puppet.”
Loki glanced back at him a final time. His eyes were shining with dangerous amusement. “Looking forward to it, Barton.” And then he was gone.
Clint let out a long hiss of frustration, his fists clenched and shoulders tensed up. He actually started a little when a light touch brushed by his arm and he glanced over to find Natasha by his side.
“We'll get him.” She promised softly, eyes locked on where Loki had disappeared.
Clint looked back there as well. He nodded.
Loki had a debt and the ledger had to be balanced for Clint to be able to move on with his life.
Bucky was securing himself his favorite assault rifle when Steve cleared his throat by his side.
“You okay?” Steve asked quietly.
Bucky shrugged. “Tony's right.” He could feel Steve's piercing gaze linger on him.
“Tony is right about a lot of things,” Steve said, “but I didn't throw anything away.”
Lifting a sardonic eyebrow, Bucky kept his gaze on the gun, going through the automatic motions of checking the weapon for any damage or faults. “You're an outlaw, Steve. You went from being a hero to a fugitive.” And Bucky was becoming increasingly certain he wasn't worth the cost.
“I never claimed to be a good soldier.” Steve countered, sounding a little awkward before his voice grew warm and filled with... something. “And I would do it all over again.” He placed his hand on Bucky, right where his neck met his shoulder, and despite how it was a large, powerful hand and not the frail fingers he'd once known, the touch still felt like Steve. “You're my friend, Buck.”
Bucky glanced over at him. For a moment it looked like Steve was going to say something else, like there was something important he had to tell him, but in the end he merely gave him a reassuring smile, a light squeeze, then withdrew and disappeared out of the room.
Bucky didn't move for a long time. He could still feel where Steve's hand had been.
“So, did he tell you?” Sam's voice snapped him out of his apathy.
Frowning annoyed, Bucky went back to checking his weapon. Sam was one of the good guys, there was no doubt about that, but he was making it his life's mission to pester Bucky. “Tell me what?”
Sam threw his hands up, looking like he was praying for patience from higher powers, before he focused on Bucky again with no small amount of frustration. “Man, I swear, I honestly don't know whether you're being deliberately stupid or if you two are just the most oblivious idiots ever to walk this earth!”
Bucky got even more annoyed. “What are you talking about?”
“I'm talking about you and Steve, you moron.”
“What about us?”
“Everybody can see you two thirsting for each other and now that we're all probably gonna die, maybe it is time to do something about it?”
Bucky opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, trying to decipher what the man was saying, and once he did; an embarrassed flush crawled up his face. “It's not... Steve isn't...”
“Uh huh.” Sam cut him off with a no nonsense look on his face. “You must be blind in addition to being stupid.” He rolled his eyes. “Dude, it's as obvious as it was with Natasha and Clint. Come on. You know you want some. Go find him before Thanos gets here and kills us all.”
Putting the weapon carefully down on the table, Bucky drew a breath before he glanced over at Sam, scanning him to see whether he was just pulling his leg or being serious.
Sam did not waver, merely raised his eyebrows in a mute challenge.
“I...” Bucky cleared his throat. “I got to go and check something.”
“Yeah.” Sam lost the battle against an obnoxiously smug smile, nodding a little and crossing his arms. “You do that.”
Bucky glared at him, not quite ready to believe what he was hinting at and resenting the idea that Sam might've been able to read Steve better than he did. Still, he chose to keep quiet and merely left the room with an increasingly nervous feeling in his gut. Was he really going to do this, just because Sam said so? Sam, who loved to mess with him? Sam, who never passed up the chance to make Bucky look like an idiot. Sam, who was indeed a decent guy who would never pull a cruel prank like that...
It took all the willpower Bucky possessed to walk down to Steve's room and not turn away. His intense focus made Wakandian guards skitter out of his way as he came marching down the hallway as if going to war. Even the knocks on Steve's door was done with military precision.
There was a moment, when the door opened and Steve Roger's handsome face went from worried to pleased at the sight of him, where Bucky almost changed his mind. The idea that Steve, his Steve, could change from an illusion to something real was so far-fetched that he'd rather say nothing, rather keep things like they were, which meant he could at least be near him.
“It might be the end of the world so I need to ask you something.” Bucky said, brushing by him and entering the room before he did change his mind.
Steve slowly closed the door with an amused huff and turned to face him. “Come on in, Buck.”
Struggling to find the words, Bucky couldn't think of a single way to open his mouth without making a complete fool of himself. How could he uncover what he needed to know without Steve knowing and risk their friendship?
Driven by desperation, he couldn't not know now that he'd come this far, Bucky stepped closer, far too close, to Steve. He watched as Steve blinked surprised, noted how he appeared confused but not threatened by the proximity, but then... Steve's eyes shifted down to Bucky's lips, lingered, lingered just a heartbeat too long, before his gaze snapped up to meet Bucky's sharp stare and Bucky knew.
Relief, happiness and even frustration flushed through him and he smiled a little. “Why didn't you tell me, Steve?”
Steve swallowed hard, looking cornered and nervous and a little guilty. “Tell you what?”
“This.” Bucky said, moving even closer. He leaned in, semi-convinced he was dreaming, yet his courage only lasted until he was half an inch away from Steve's lips. What if he was wrong? What if he'd merely imagined what he wanted to see? What if-
His thoughts were abruptly silenced when Steve slid a hand behind Bucky's neck and pulled him in that final stretch for their very first kiss. It was a chaste and careful thing, but oh so perfect. Soft, warm and all things Bucky had imagined Steve's lips would be.
“Oh, wow,” Steve breathed when they pulled back a little. “Sam was right.” Everything about this was right. And long overdue.
Bucky couldn't help a brief laugh. “As if he wasn't bad enough. Now he's going to be insufferable.”
But that didn't prevent them from going in for a second kiss and then a third.
It was late afternoon by the time Zemo entered Shuri's workshop. The two guards who followed him everywhere remained by the door while he entered the room, looking around more by habit than anything else. There were several people there, mostly scientists, but also some medical staff due to Stephen Strange's presence, but everyone looked over at Zemo with nothing but contempt. He only felt a sliver of resentment at how he couldn't use it to make them do something stupid, something that would end in his death, as they respected their king too much. But he was a patient man. He would wait. An opportunity would present itself eventually.
“Over here.” A voice snapped.
Zemo obeyed. He walked over to where Shuri was standing and sat down when she pointed at a chair next to her. She didn't want him standing, towering over her, and he could respect that. He held up his arm and spent the moment she needed to unlock and remove the tracker to study Strange, his living cape and the precious necklace the man wore around his neck.
He imagined what it would be like to have such power, to be able to reverse time, to have second chances and no regrets. To save the ones you loved. To see your son again. Hold him again.
A light touch to his wrist made Zemo snap out of his thoughts and he looked up to find Shuri watching him with a thoughtful frown and he didn't understand why until he realized his hand was shaking. Clenching it into a fist, he slowly lowered it to the armrest of the chair and shifted to stare at the floor instead. He made his mind go blank.
Shuri worked in silence. She removed the computer chip, the transmitter, from the bracelet and shifted it over to a new one. Once a couple of tests had been done to make sure it was fully functional, it was placed around Zemo's wrist and locked securely.
“There.” Shuri stated, wanting to sound smug, but only appeared uncomfortable. “You can go.”
Zemo lifted his gaze from the floor and in a horribly quick move; he reached out, grabbed Shuri by the neck and yanked her towards him to send her crashing to the floor. He heard her surprised yelp but he was more focused on crouching over her, hunching down and protecting his own head as well as her entire body from the explosion erupting from the grenade-like thing which had just rolled into the room from the backdoor. A fragment left a stinging cut across his shoulder.
“Get off! Get. Off!” Shuri was batting at his knee but Zemo ignored her request.
“Weapons?” He asked instead. She paused to point at a nearby table. “Stay down.” He ordered and made a dash for the table.
A shape stepped through the smoke and Corvus Glaive set his eyes on Stephen Strange, only absently swatting away a guard launching an attack at him.
Zemo picked up what looked like some high tech gun, hesitated as he had no idea what the thing actually did, but then two more guards were downed and so he merely lifted the gun and started firing. The recoil was fierce, but not as fierce as the energy blasts the gun fired towards the intruder, forcing him to defend himself and turn his attention to Zemo.
Corvus snarled annoyed. He dodged and blocked the blasts until he got his chance and suddenly shot towards the Sokovian. His hand locked around Zemo's throat and he lifted him up to slam him against the wall; choking him to the point of nearly crushing his neck with barely any effort.
Reacting instinctively, Zemo dropped the gun and clawed in vain at the hand completely blocking off his air and blood circulation. If anything, the effort made the grip tighten even more. He could almost feel his hyoid bone being on the verge of breaking when there was the sound of high tech gun fire and the monster abruptly released Zemo. Crumbling like a sack of potatoes, Zemo coughed and struggled for air, still grabbing at his throat as if that would make it easier to breathe.
“Get up!” His blurry eyesight revealed Shuri moving in front him; firing at the intruder with some contraptions on both of her hands to make him keep his distance.
Fighting his way up on unsteady feet, somehow managing to pick up the gun he'd dropped, Zemo started firing at the intruder as well, even though his aim was probably way off. “Told you to stay down,” he rasped.
“My brother wants you alive.” Shuri stated stubbornly.
Zemo tried to make her step back, get between her and the threat, but she wouldn't let him. “I think,” he said in a hoarse voice, every word painful as his throat burned, “that your life is a lot more important to him.”
“Then I guess we better both stay alive!” Shuri snapped back.
He was about to order the stupid little girl to take cover but that was when Corvus ducked down and swept Zemo's legs under him with the blunt edge of his glaive. Landing hard on his back, pushing his already struggling respiratory system and dizzy mind dangerously close to short circuiting, Zemo was left squirming and gasping for air on the floor. He didn't even see Shuri get flung against a table and fall to the floor as well. Hell, Zemo only vaguely noticed Corvus stepping over him to aim for Stephen Strange.
Zemo blinked slowly as something flew through the air.
A loud crash was heard as Corvus was thrown through a large window, soon falling towards the jungle below, and the next time Zemo blinked; he found himself looking up at T'Challa.
The king of Wakanda turned his head and spoke to someone else, Shuri probably, then turned back to Zemo and helped him sit up. He frowned and touched Zemo's heavily bruised neck.
Shuri appeared next to T'Challa, bleeding from a cut by her eye and a split lip, but she looked more annoyed than scared. “How is he?”
T'Challa gestured to Zemo's neck. “Get someone to look at his neck. That looks bad.”
Zemo coughed, feeling his senses starting to return to him. “I thought we had an agreement.”
T'Challa got up, smiling a little. “I'm not saving your life. Shuri will.” He then turned serious again. “I have to go. There may be others. I will send more guards up here, you have to move Strange, and whatever happens, remember; these intruders can't be allowed to take that stone.”
Shuri clenched her jaw. “They won't.”
Outside the window, high up in the blue sky, several dark shapes began to approach Wakanda.
Chapter 12: BONUS CHAPTER
Foreshadowing, foreshadowing EVERYWHERE!
Clint was lying in bed, his head in Nat's lap, trying to focus on her fingers trailing through his hair and her gentle humming of a Russian lullaby instead of on the feeling of incoming doom. Since talking to Loki, he had been unable to relax or think about anything else. He was constantly torn between anger and fear. Anger at Loki for what he'd done, fear at what Clint himself might do.
Knowing this was not their time, their revenge would come later and oh how bloody it would be, Natasha simply kept reassuring him with her every touch that he wasn't alone anymore. Her own issues was put on ice, hopefully for good, but she was itching to pay Loki back for what he'd done to Clint. She was not the kind who forgave and forgot. No, the Black Widow remembered and got even.
Nobody hurt Clint and got away with it.
She could finally feel Clint starting to relax when a loud wailing sound suddenly cut through the air and they stared at each other as they realized what it meant. The intruder alarm was sounding in Wakanda.
“I don't care!” Peter exclaimed, still angry. “You know how dangerous it is!”
Saal sighed. Ever since his return from the Avengers Compound, Peter had been in a constant state of anger and now he demanded that Saal stopped using the Nova Force entirely. Which wasn't possible, considering the threat they were facing. “Peter...” He got up from the chair and walked over to place his hands on Peter's shoulder. “I understand you are worried, I am too, but we both know we need every weapon possible against Thanos.”
Peter sent him a desperate look. “You're not a weapon, Garthan.” He struggled to keep his voice from shaking. “And I need you more.”
Saal pulled him into a firm embrace, hiding his face against Peter's neck, feeling his arms go around him as well. Neither of them moved until a loud wailing sound cut through the air. The intruder alarm was sounding in Wakanda.
“Thanos. Infinity Stones. Loki and Thor.” Eddie looked through his notes with a sigh. “Starting to worry this is slightly above our pay grade.”
~I told you; we should run.~
Eddie made a face. “But... run where? I mean, the way I understand it, Thanos is planning to wipe out half of the universe.”
Venom emerged from his back and hovered over his shoulder. ”Ugh. Forgot about that minor detail.”
Laughing a little, Eddie nodded. “Yeah...” He reached up and the symbiote automatically headbutted lightly against his palm. “We're going to be alright though, won't we?”
”We will protect you, Eddie.” Black substance emerged around Eddie to coil around him in a possessive embrace. ”Won't let anything bad happen to you.”
Suddenly a loud wailing sound cut through the air, startling and hurting them both. The intruder alarm was sounding in Wakanda.
Sparks flew as Tony made his final repairs to his suit and he pushed the protective barrier in front of his face up to study his work. “You probably should have let somebody have a look at that.”
Loki glanced up from where he was sitting in a dark corner of the workshop, a hand still to his side, but the words made him smile a little. “I'm a quick healer.”
Tony turned to face him. “Are we going to lose this battle?”
The smile vanished from Loki's face and he turned his gaze to the floor with a faint sigh. After a long moment, he shook his head a little while raising his eyebrows. “I have no idea.”
“I don't want to die alone,” Tony said, almost pleaded.
Loki looked up at him again, held his gaze, and promised quietly; “You won't die alone.”
Suddenly a loud wailing sound cut through the air. The intruder alarm was sounding in Wakanda.
The bed was soft under him while Steve was pleasantly heavy and solid on top of him and Bucky had lost count of which kiss they were on by now. They had managed to shuffle over from the door to the bed, but he kept losing himself in the feeling of finally- Finally! -kissing Steve.
“How long?” Steve asked into his mouth, slightly out of breath and madly polite about where he put his hands.
Smiling into the next kiss, Bucky rolled them abruptly over so he was the one on top for a moment. “Since we were kids.” He had to laugh a little at the shock in Steve's eyes but then too many seconds had passed since he'd had his mouth on his and he quickly corrected that.
He was also less polite about where he put his hands.
They had wasted so many years. It was enough to make Bucky want to scream, but he decided to focus on the present instead. The past couldn't be undone, but they had found each other now, and nothing was going to tear them apart again.
Suddenly a loud wailing sound cut through the air. The intruder alarm was sounding in Wakanda.
Up on the roof, Sam Wilson watched as the alien ships, a whole bunch of them, crept closer and the sirens were blaring out their warnings about their arrival. He barely glanced over as Okoye stepped up next to him. “I hope you guys are ready.”
Okoye kept her gaze on the ships as well. “We are ready.”
Below them, on the ground, Wakandian soldiers from all alliances were gathering and Sam knew Steve had been right; they were in the end game now. It had all been leading up to this.
There was a rolling sound of thunder and a flash of distant lightning.
“Ok,” Sam said, stepping forward to place one foot on the edge of the roof, “let's do this.”
The final battle and Thanos arrives
Yeah, this chapter never wanted to end. Sorry about that. Which means one long-ass chapter + another bonus one.
Tony stared up at the invisible shield covering Wakanda and observed with quiet wonder as several alien ships collided against it and exploded. He still had Pepper's voice in his ear from her recent call, angrily and frantically pleading for him to run away, come back home, and finally resigning with fragile despair for him to be careful and survive.
Loki was standing to his left, but his gaze was locked on the flashes of lightning that could be seen outside of the shield. He was unusually pale, even for his standards, and there was a whole bunch of complicated feelings radiating from him.
On Tony's right, speaking of complicated feelings, was Steve Rogers.
While a large part of Tony still wanted to punch him in his perfect teeth, he also still -And this was driving him crazy!- didn't want him gone. It felt bizarrely reassuring to have him there.
As if he could sense him looking at him, the golden boy glanced over at Tony, followed by a trying smile. When that didn't get him killed, even if there was no smile back, Steve dared to add; “Be careful out there, Tony.”
Tony gave a curt nod. “You too, Cap.” And he meant it.
T'Challa came walking with Okoye and two others guards, joining Tony and the others on the vehicle meant to transport them to the battlefield where the Wakandian fighters were already gathered. This meant they were all there, except for Sam, who was flying high above them, T'Challa's sister and his weird pet aka Zemo. The king nodded to the one driving the vehicle to set it into motion and they headed towards what would become the battleground.
Everyone stared with grim determination at what was waiting for them. Well, almost everyone. Half-hidden behind Steve, Eddie Brock looked plain terrified.
“You ok?” Tony asked.
“No.” Eddie croaked.
Steve reached back and placed a hand on Eddie's shoulder to give it a reassuring squeeze and the scared man an empathic look, and Tony felt like punching him again. Steve always did that; rallied spirits and became the beacon of strength for others to lean on. Zemo had been wrong; the green in his eyes didn't qualify as a flaw, the man was disgustingly perfect. Just like Howard had claimed.
“Yeah, well, just try not to get yourself killed.” Tony told Eddie and left it at that.
While some of the alien ships had crashed and burned thanks to the shield, most have come to brutal landings outside of it and loomed dark and foreign with their cargo intact. The only sign of life were three figures standing a small distance from the shield; the scary lady, the big monster and that noseless wizard who had enslaved Thor with the Mind Stone.
Once the vehicle came to a halt, T'Challa went to greet some of the tribal leaders while Steve and Tony kept their focus on the trio. It was unsettling how calm those guys appeared to be, despite the size of the massive Wakandian army that had now gathered.
What the hell were in those ships?
Moments later, T'Challa stepped up next to Steve again. “Shall we, Captain?”
“After you,” Steve replied. “Tony?”
Having little faith in diplomacy being able to solve this situation, Tony still preferred to be in the loop of what was being said. “Yeah, ok.”
“If this fails, and the odds for success aren't good, you all know the plan.” Steve said. He turned his head to pointedly look at Hawkeye. “Stick to the plan. Roger that, Clint?”
Clearly not happy about it, his face tight and displeased, Clint managed to give a nod. He was to keep in the back, rely on his arrows and stay out of reach with the Space Stone.
And with that settled, T'Challa, Steve and Tony began to make their way towards the three aliens.
“One of them is already inside.” T'Challa said as they approached.
“Great.” Steve sighed.
“And we're okay with this?” Tony asked, wondering why he was the only sane one on the planet.
T'Challa smiled a little. “Shuri brought Doctor Strange to her lab and so they are a whole lot safer than we are.”
Tony couldn't really argue against that. “Fair enough.”
And frankly he was too unsettled out by the cruel smile on the alien lady's face to think about it any more.
“We are here for the Stones.” Proxima stated once they had come to a halt in front of them.
“There is nothing for you here.” T'Challa countered, calm but determined.
The big monster growled, the smile on the woman's face widened with malice, but it was the slender magic-wielding creature who spoke; “One of your friends has seen the truth and already given us the Mind Stone. Surrender to the unavoidable and bring us what belongs to the mighty Thanos.”
Steve felt no small amount of anger at the mentioning of Thor. He kept eye contact with Proxima, showing no fear, merely resolve, as he coldly stated; “Lady, the last time you tried to steal something from us, your buddy lost his hand.”
Proxima's eyes flared with anger as well. “And for that, I will take both of yours and your head.”
“War it is then.” Maw concluded, pleasantly.
“Or you could just go away?” Tony suggested.
“War.” Proxima agreed, and lifted her spear high in the air to signal the decision to the ships behind them.
Steve said nothing, merely turned and walked back towards the others. Tony and T'Challa did the same.
The ground began to rumble as something was happening with the alien ships and there was the building sound as if thousands of thousands of creatures were roaring together.
The Wakandian war cries began to build up as well, almost drowning out the ominous sound from the outside the barrier. The rhythmic banging of spears against shields, fists against armor, was like a heart beat that thrummed through them all.
Outside of the barrier, the ships opened and shapes began pouring out. Different from the Chitauri and possibly even more frightening by appearance, the creatures stormed unnaturally fast towards Wakanda with the blind intention to attack and kill anything in their path.
The first creatures which slammed themselves against the barrier met a gruesome end, but it didn't seem like the following ones cared; they merely threw themselves at it, ignoring their own blistering, cracking skin with the same ease it ignored the injuries of the ones next to it. Anything that managed to push through the barrier for a moment was soon cut off, but that didn't deter them either and the pressure against the shield kept increasing.
Some climbed on top of each other to get to their targets, others fanned out, and it was like watching a wave of living flesh hit a reversed glass bowl.
An ear-splitting boom hit almost at the same time as a massive pillar of lightning slammed into the top of the barrier with enough force to send crackles of energy shuddering through miles of the dome.
Steve, T'Challa and Tony took up their place with the others again, looking back at the monsters trying to force their way through the barrier and the shudders going through the shield from the second lightning attack.
When the first monster got through, it was badly burned and barely able to drag itself towards the humans it wanted to kill, but others followed and the wave of flesh was spreading wider and wider.
“If they get through or manage to take down the barrier, they will head in to the city, to the villages.” Okoye pointed out, tense but calm.
T'Challa nodded, frowning, watching as one of the Wakandian soldiers blasted a lone alien creature limping towards them. “We have to open the barrier...”
“What?” Eddie stared from one to the other. “You want to let them in? Here? Where we are?”
“Time to suit up.” Steve said to him.
T'Challa activated his communication with the control tower. “Open North West, section 17, of the barrier.”
Steve activated his new vibranium shields, feeling adrenaline and fear wash through his system. “Remember, we got to take the big guys down. Take out as many as you can of these creatures, don't let them reach the city, and be careful.”
Loki shook his head a little, eyes sharp and hands ready for battle. “I can't believe I'm doing this.”
Venom rose up to engulf Eddie and snarled annoyed. “Outriders. They taste wrong. Taste like chemicals and nothing.”
Bucky lifted his assault rifle and took aim as the barrier opened and the creatures flooded inside. “Here they come.”
Energy blasts, arrows, bullets, all of it rained down on the alien monsters as they rushed towards their targets, but it didn't take long before they came to a collision with the ones waiting for them.
After that, time seemed to speed up and the aliens seemed to never end.
Jarvis tried to point out the extremely elevated heart rate to Tony, but was quickly muted and ignored as Tony blasted one alien after another. Steve quickly lost count of how many enemies fell under his shields. Venom lowered his head and basically went through them like a rampaging bull, only ripping off the occasional arm or a leg. Bucky was forced to back up as even his bullets couldn't cut down the enemies fast enough to keep them at a safe distance. Natasha discovered that shedding blue blood was just as easy as red. Peter Quill used his jet packs to keep out of reach as he fired both of his guns and insults at the Outriders. Sam was soaring high above them, ducking down to unleash a shower of bullets from time to time, but seemed to be waiting for something before he would fully engage. Saal was surrounded by a bright blue, almost white, energy and that included the guns he was firing; sending charged bullets into the Outriders and making them explode. Loki appeared and disappeared across the battlefield, summoning and throwing daggers that always hit their mark and sent the target tumbling into the dust.
Clint remained in the background, behind a wall of Wakandian soldiers, brimming with anger and resentment, making sure his every arrow brought down as many aliens as possible, constantly telling himself to 'stick to the plan', and hating every moment.
Everywhere Wakandian people were giving everything they had against impossible odds.
Venom bounded through a pack of Outrides, took a couple of bites out of two who got in his way and threw out black spikes to impale the ones stupid enough to charge at him. The long tongue was flicking with agitation and the eternal grin was stained blue with alien blood.
~Oh God, there are so many of them!~
Eddie's internal voice was tinged with panic, but Venom tore the head off an Outrider in front of them and his grin widened. ”One less now.”
Before any response could be made, a blast of energy hit them and sent them flying into a huge boulder. Stunned, Venom struggled to get back up, but cried out in pain as something sharp went straight through his thigh and impaled him to the ground.
Proxima twisted her three pronged spear a little, just to hear the symbiote and the human scream again, before she leaned down to snarl; “I've been looking for you.”
Venom moved to shape the blackness into spikes, but she quickly twisted the spear again and he was momentarily immobilized by blinding pain. That was no normal spear!
“I made a promise,” Proxima continued, her voice low with deadly anger, “I promised I was going to burn you.”
~Fire, Eddie. Not good.~
~The spear. It's doing something to us, Eddie.~
Pain made them both cry out again, but this time it was caused by the spear being torn free as Proxima was forced to lift it and defend herself from several blasts from Tony flying by in his Iron Man suit. “I thought I told you to stay alive, Brock?”
”We are Venom!” Venom replied, straightening as the wound closed and drool was dripping from his jaws. ”And now we are going to kill her!”
“Have fun with that.” Tony countered over the communication system, already moving on to help others.
Midnight Proxima twirled her spear once, getting into a fighting position. “I'm going to enjoy this.”
Half of Venom's face peeled back to reveal Eddie. “I sincerely doubt that.” The black goo covered him again and Venom attacked.
Not too far away, T'Challa was forced to duck as Obsidian's massive weapon almost took his head off in one powerful swing; connecting with and sending a whole bunch of Outriders flying instead.
Pulling the weapon back, Obsidian made another go at T'Challa's head, leaving huge craters in the ground where he hit after each miss and furious frustration made him roar gibberish at the human scrabbling and dodging both the weapon as well as the jaws of nearby Outriders.
T'Challa rolled to one side, feeling the ground shake as Obsidian's weapon dug into the dirt where he'd been seconds before, then threw a punch at one Outrider snapping at him and only barely caught sight of the spindly Ebony Maw floating by with a blank faced Thor in tow.
Maw looked out on the chaotic battlefield, scouting for something, and when he didn't see it; he sent Thor into the fray with a dismissive gesture of his hand.
T'Challa realized two thing at once. One, Thor was heading for Bucky. Two, he himself had been distracted for a split second and that was just enough time for Obsidian to swing his weapon at him again and now T'Challa wouldn't be able to dodge it.
Automatically crossing his arms in front of him, hoping the vibranium would be enough to save his life, he was surprised to see something hit Obsidian in the chest, one object and then two, and before the massive weapon could flatten T'Challa; the two arrows in his torso exploded and made the big alien stumble backwards with a pained and furious roar.
T'Challa wasted no time in getting up on his feet and at a safe distance. He only spared one moment to nod his thanks to Clint before throwing himself into battle again.
Bucky shot one alien creature after another and yet they never seemed to end. The shapes fell and three more appeared behind it to rush towards him, forcing him to step one careful step backwards and then another, until he and two Wakandian soldiers were surrounded and there was no place to go. Pure reflexes made him lift his rifle and it -and not Bucky's throat which it was aiming for- was caught sideways between the teeth of the alien jumping at him, but the weight slamming against him did send him toppling over to land hard on his back on the ground. The beast was trying to chew through the weapon while its hands scrabbled to get a hold of him, and Bucky desperately reached for his knife with his human hand. He managed to get a hold of it and ram it deep into the alien's throat, unleashing a spray of blue blood, but the second he pushed the creature away and got back up on his feet; a new one attacked him. The rifle was lost to him, forcing Bucky to rely on his knife, brute strength and his enhanced arm to stay alive.
He tried hard -and failed- to not remember his time as the Winter Soldier as his vibranium hand crushed the throat of an alien and his mind trembled under the strain. He lashed out at yet another alien jumping at him, hearing its bones crunch at the impact of his artificial fist, but he didn't see the real danger before it was too late.
Lightning struck Bucky from above, knocking the air out of his lungs and locking his entire body up with electricity running through his muscles, making him unable to defend himself against Thor's fist.
“Steve!” Natasha had to yell to be heard over the noise of the battle despite how she and Steve were not that far from each other. Once he glanced over at her, she pointed before dodging the jaws of an alien and punching it in the face. “Thor!”
Frowning, Steve nodded. They had all been aware of the danger of meeting their friend on the battlefield. Saal was probably the only one strong enough to take down Thor, but Steve couldn't see him anywhere. He punched his way through some aliens, trying to scout for the blue energy that would signal Saal's presence, but then something caught his eye and Steve forgot all about finding Saal.
Bucky stumbled back under another one of Thor's attack, already bleeding and unsteady on his feet, but his vibranium arm managed to block most of the punch aimed at his face.
There was no way he was going to kill Thor, even if he had already seen two openings for him to take his knife to him, but at this rate; Bucky knew Thor was going to end up killing him. He was just too damn strong! And one more of those lightening attacks...
In the background, Ebony Maw hovered, fingers stapled together in front of his stomach and a pleased smile on his face.
The smile vanished when Steve Rogers came running out of nowhere and shoulder-slammed Thor, and Loki emerged from out of nowhere behind Maw, knife in his hand and with a score to settle.
Battle experience and luck were the only things that saved Maw from a mortal wound. Instead he managed to twist his torso just enough for Loki's knife to miss any vital organs and he stumbled a couple of steps away while sending Loki flying with a flick of his hand. He touched his other hand to his back to stare at his bloodied fingertips with a look of disbelief.
When Maw glanced over at him, Loki was already back on his feet, sneering and a new knife materialized in his hand. “I've already told you lot; give me back my brother.”
Furious, Maw lifted several rocks from the ground with his magic, turned them into sharp projectiles and aimed them at Loki. “Thanos wanted to kill you himself, but I fear that is one joy I must take from him.” He waved his fingers and the deadly fragments shot towards Loki.
And they went straight through him, causing the illusion to flicker briefly before it dissolved.
Maw sneered angrily, warily scouting his surroundings.
Bucky went down on one knee when Steve came slamming into Thor, just needing one second to breathe, then he was back up and rushed over to where Thor was now unleashing his manipulated fury onto the interrupter.
The power of his punches was incredible, Steve noted as he blocked one of Thor's fists and felt pain vibrate through his arms all the way up to his shoulders. He only felt a flicker of hope when Bucky joined his side and the two were able to work together to incapacitate the Asgardian.
Just like old times, Steve and Bucky attacked, dodged and blocked like it was a choreographed battle scene. The only problem was that Thor didn't seem to tire while they were (mostly) human, that and the fact that the other aliens still tried to take a bite out of them at random moments.
“Got any other great ideas?” Bucky ground out, blocking one of Thor's hands.
“No.” Steve replied in an equally strained voice, blocking the other. “You?”
It was pure coincidence that made Steve look up and despite the chaos; he blinked confused.
What was that? Shooting towards them from above. Getting bigger and bigger.
When he realized, Steve's eyes widened and he ducked over to pull Bucky down and get out of the way as Sam dive-bombed straight towards them.
Only at the very last second did Sam spread his wings to prevent crashing, twist up and throw his feet out first; landing one insanely hard kick directly to Thor's head. One which sent the blond flying before crashing to the ground, and there he stayed while Sam went back up in the air.
A stunned Steve crawled over to check that Thor was alright while an equally surprised Bucky kept the other aliens back. “He's breathing. Just knocked out.”
Sam was circling above them, breathing a shaky laugh verging on hysteria over the communication system. “Goddamn, I can't believe that worked! It actually worked! The jerk was right!”
“Who are you talking about?” Steve asked, looking up at him.
“Zemo!” Sam replied. “He talked about cognitive recalibration working on Clint and I was all; what? And he was all; just kick him in the head. Hard.” He let out that shaky laugh again. “If we survive this, he's not gonna carry a grudge, right?”
Steve actually smiled a little. “Good work, Sam.”
“If he wakes up sane, just make sure you tell him that. Otherwise, I'm kicking him again.” Sam sniped, then pulled his guns and dove back down to deal with the never-ending hoard still pouring through the barrier.
Bucky spared a moment to exchange a look with Steve while holding one alien beast up in the air and choking it. “Technically, it fits. Falcons are famous for dive-bombing.”
“Don't start with that again.” Steve got up and they created a protective barrier around the knocked out Thor. “He was just riling you up with the 'raccoon' comment. He knows it was camouflage and you had stopped reacting to the eye make-up jokes.”
“I'm still getting him bird seeds for Christmas.” Bucky threw the alien at one bounding towards him.
Tony Stark flew by above them, cutting through several aliens with energy beams from his hands, but his main target, Ebony Maw, was currently throwing all kinds of nasty tricks at the multiple Lokis appearing around him and seemed unaware of his approach.
At least, that's what Tony thought, but when he was locked on to Maw and about to blast him into the stratosphere; huge tree-root-looking things sprouted from the ground and grabbed a hold of him. Thick vines coiled around his limbs and body, pulling him down, new ones replacing the damaged ones faster than he could blast them away. Tony found himself bundled up and nearly crushed in their grip, but he still kept calm as Maw approached him with three snarling aliens.
“Foolish human. Your powers are inconsequential compared to mine.” Maw said, slowly lifting a hand to signal the beasts to attack.
“Yeah,” Tony conceded, and as the aliens jumped towards him he added; “but he's sneakier.”
The middle alien of the three turned into Loki, who flung knife after knife as he twisted mid-air from facing Tony to Maw so he could watch when that final knife went into Maw's throat.
The wizard made a startled sound, lifted his hand to where the blade was embedded, frowned a little, swayed a little, and finally fell down.
In a laboratory, deep inside Wakanda, Stephen Strange opened his eyes with a gasp. Sitting up, grasping a hold of the pendant, he looked over at the startled Shuri and Zemo pointing a gun at him. “We don't have much time. He's coming.”
There was a flash of light and a massive figure stepped out from it and Clint knew who it was. Something inside Hawkeye flared and hurt, reacting to the stones already gathered on the golden gloves, crying out to their remaining siblings.
Thanos had arrived.
Crouching down by the fallen Maw, in front of a stunned Loki and Tony, Thanos collected the fourth Infinity Stone, resting his fingertips briefly to Maw's shoulder, and then Clint had to clench his jaw against the pain that followed the power surge of attaching the stone to the glove.
Clint's instincts told him to fire every arrow he had at that purple face, kill him before he killed everyone, but the soldier in him reminded him of the plan; for him to stay in the back and out of sight. Frustrated, Clint remained where he was and announced over the communication system: “Thanos just arrived. I hope you're all ready.”
“Stick to the plan, Clint.” Steve's voice said. “The rest of us, he's our main target, but be careful.”
Tony managed to get off one blast before Thanos clenched his glove and sent him flying across the battlefield. Clint was then surprised to see genuine terror on Loki's face as Loki began to back away with a faint, apologetic smile, but the distance made it impossible for him to hear what the man was saying. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to convince the stone-faced Thanos.
Loki suddenly split into multiple versions of himself, but Thanos clenched the glove again and the illusions dissolved just as the trickster was about to make a run for it, making it easy for the Titan to grab the real Loki by the throat with his gloveless hand and lift him up into the air.
Clint couldn't believe he was about to do what he was going to do, but he fired off an arrow at Thanos before he could change his mind and let Loki die and have the Infinity Stone stuck inside him for the rest of his life.
The arrow almost hit its mark. Almost. Then it turned into bubbles. Wait, what?
While Clint questioned his own sanity, a portal flared open next to Thanos and Stephen Strange stepped out to face the Titan.
Thanos looked thoughtfully at him. “So, I won't have to hunt you down? I appreciate that.” He spared one moment to glance back at the choking Loki, kicking his feet and tugging at his hand, and said; “I will deal with you later.” He yet again clenched the glove and there was a flash of blue light. Loki instantly went limp, clearly unconscious, and was dropped to the ground.
What followed was an almost bizarre battle of magic which even the alien beasts shied away from.
Meanwhile, back in the laboratory; Shuri was plotting instructions into the computer at an amazing speed. She only cast a quick and almost irritated glance at the one hovering pointlessly behind her. Then an idea struck. “You know how to fly. Make yourself useful.” She gestured to a chair.
Zemo frowned. “What?” His question was answered when a holographic cockpit suddenly surrounded the chair, which had turned into an airplane seat. “Oh.” He then frowned again. “What?”
“Just do it. Keep those creatures away from the city.” Shuri snapped.
Zemo spared her a sour glare, but he did as ordered and took a seat. He blinked surprised when the world around him became what he'd see if he truly had been sitting in the aircraft parked outside the building. With tech like this, Sokovia might've been something more than a rotten state... Shaking off the thoughts of his previous life, Zemo fired up the engine. Time to kill some aliens.
Down on the battlefield, Stephen Strange was struggling to keep the unflappable Thanos at bay and Clint glanced around for someone to help him, but everyone he could see seemed to be busy fighting for their own lives despite desperately trying to make their way over.
A quick movement from the combatants drew his attention back and Clint felt fear coil up in his stomach when he saw Strange wrapped up in what looked like metal vines.
“A simple spell, but quite unbreakable.” Strange triumphed when Thanos' effort at taking the pendant resulted in a burned hand.
Thanos nodded. Then clenched the glove and a red glow surrounded them. “But in a different reality, there is no spell.” He reached once more for the pendant, plucked it easily from the shocked Strange, then turned away to crush it in his hand and reveal the Time Stone. Attaching it to the glove, there was another surge of power.
Clint gasped, pressing a hand to his chest, feeling like he was burning up inside.
Thanos walked over to where Loki was lying. “Now, you.”
Loki tried to fight him. He really did. From the second he was forced awake and Thanos demanded the location of the Space Stone, Loki tried to resist. He tried to lie, manipulate and plain refuse, but he could feel the Mind Stone's influence seep into him and it plucked the information straight from his thoughts and brought it to Thanos despite his frantic efforts.
Throwing Loki away, the Titan turned his focus to Clint Barton. “Bring him to me.” He said.
The amount of Outriders turning their attention towards Clint and rushing towards him was frightening in itself, but Hawkeye only felt real fear once he was dragged in front of Thanos himself. The burning in his chest was like having a red hot spike driven into his sternum.
“You have something that belongs to me.” Thanos said, reaching out and placing his massive hand against Clint's chest.
Somewhere in the distance, Clint heard Nat call his name, but he couldn't answer, couldn't breathe, merely felt Thanos draw the hidden Space Stone forth and stared in horror when the Titan withdrew his hand and the Tesseract emerged from Clint's chest.
“Does anybody have eyes on Clint or Thanos?” Steve's voice came over the communication system.
“He has it.” Clint whispered back, feeling strangely weak. “He has all of them.”
And in front of his eyes, Thanos broke the container and revealed the Space Stone. He only hesitated for the tiniest of seconds before he attached it to the golden glove.
This time, the power surge was massive. The Outriders stopped in their tracks, howling at the sky, and every living soul suddenly felt the shadow of fear and looming death.
For such a devastating deed, the snap was almost anti-climatic. It was a simple move, an underwhelming sound, and for a moment it seemed like nothing followed it.
Then it happened.
So much death...
While in a battle stance, ready to keep defending Thor despite how the aliens just remained where they were and kept making these horrible howls, something made Steve look up at the sky. The first thing he saw was one of the several Wakandian planes which had aided them in the fight was spinning out of control and it crashed to a fiery end. The second thing was even worse, Sam appeared to be spinning out of control too.
“Sam?” Steve called out over the communication system. “Sam, what's wrong?”
There was no reply, instead Steve was a horrified witness to how the man suddenly seemed to dissolve. Flakes of what appeared to be ashes trailed behind Sam until there was nothing left but the empty wings falling to the ground.
Shock made Steve unable to understand what he'd just seen, he was completely stunned when he heard Bucky speak.
Turning, he saw Bucky take a step towards him, lifting his human hand and staring at it with pained confusion, before he too merely dissolved into ashes and was gone.
Unable to believe what had just happened, Steve stumbled towards where Bucky had vanished, where his rifle had fallen to the ground and was still lying, and he fell to his knees to touch the small amount of ashes he could see. A part of him knew what had happened, but a bigger part refused to accept it. He couldn't accept it. There was a grief too big to handle if he accepted it.
Drawing a shivering breath, refusing to acknowledge the despair in his throat, Steve merely knelt there and felt his world fall apart. There was no more fight left in him.
While the Outriders had stopped their attack, Proxima had not and Venom barely acknowledge what was happening outside of their fight. The woman had proven to be extremely annoying and hard to kill! Venom had even gotten a couple of painful injuries from her damn weapon, but luckily it only fueled his rage and made Eddie more determined to bring her down as well. It was after they had managed to fling Proxima into a crowd of Outriders that Venom felt something was wrong and came to a halt.
~I feel... strange. Do you feel strange? This is really strange... Not good strange. Bad strange.~
The symbiote pulled back to reveal Eddie Brock's torso and shaped itself to emerge from his stomach to look at him. Small tendrils reached out to touch Eddie's face as he went pale and clearly in pain.
“What...” Eddie began, but then exhaled softly and he began to dissolve.
Venom frantically tried to hold on, wrap itself around him, keep him safe, but was helpless to prevent Eddie from disappearing from its embrace and its mind.
Collapsing to the ground in a shapeless blob, Venom threw out spikes and tentacles, as if it could get a hold of the ashes and put Eddie back together again, somehow, and when that failed Venom screamed with despairing grief, and continued to scream as it hurt too much not to.
When the barrier had been opened, Saal had cut down countless Outriders when something suddenly rammed into Peter and sent him flying. Cull Obsidian had not forgotten their last encounter and Saal was more than happy to pick up the fight where they'd left off.
Seconds later, a rather offended Peter Quill came flying back to help as well.
Together they were able to keep Obsidian quite occupied, but it took longer than Saal liked to defeat him as the Nova Force kept spiking and twitching inside him. While he'd tried to convince Peter that he was doing fine, the truth was that he wasn't. He was barely in control and he was terrified of what would happen if he lost it, so Saal was forced to fight at a much lesser capacity than before and Obsidian took advantage of it.
Saal was so focused on his own dilemma that he failed to see the danger coming. He could only observe in puzzled surprise when a Wakandian soldier by his side suddenly stumbled, whispered something and then crumbled into dust. What was going on...?
“Oh, man...” Peter mumbled next to him.
Dread struck Saal. He spun around to face Peter and the dread grew ten times worse when he saw that beloved face turn first pale, then gray and a light breeze dissolved Peter Quill into ashes before his very eyes.
Saal didn't move. Didn't say anything. He couldn't.
He could only stare with trembling disbelief. Unmoving, stunned by shock as moments passed, unaware of when tears began to silently run down his face.
It had been quite a while since Zemo had piloted a plane, but it was like riding a bike. It didn't take too long before he felt comfortable in the seat and found extra comfort in knowing that getting shot down wasn't dangerous like it was when piloting a real plane.
Unleashing all his wound up anger on the aliens, it actually felt good. And while he had fought in the Sokovian army, it felt right to be defending Wakanda, almost like penance for his sins.
His throat was swollen and hurting, but he ignored it in order to focus on aiming for the aliens, and not fall for the temptation to shoot the occasional Avenger or two.
Zemo spotted the now familiar sight of T'Challa on the battlefield and felt a reluctant admiration for his fighting skills. The aliens didn't stand a chance.
Which was why Zemo paused when he saw T'Challa stumble and come to a halt. Something was wrong. Turning the plane, he was surprised to see T'Challa pulling his helmet off mid-battlefield and seemed unsteady on his feet. Something was definitely wrong.
Seconds later, Zemo saw the king of Wakanda turn into dust and vanish.
Shock made him abandon the plane and jump out of the holographic cockpit to inform Shuri. “Something is happening down there!” But no more words followed as he saw dust flutter gently where Shuri had been standing.
He stared for a moment, then, strangely enough, his legs wouldn't carry him and Zemo sank down to sit on the floor.
On the battlefield, one soul after another was turned to dust and disappeared.
Tony stared with mute agony, barely able to breathe through his guilt. He'd tried to warn them. He'd tried! Hadn't he tried hard enough? He'd known this would happen. This was his fault.
If only he had thought of... something. If only he had been smarter, better... If...
Tony closed his eyes and while his body didn't turn to dust, it certainly felt like it.
Loki sat on the ground, feeling guilt, fear and resignation as he watched the destruction. He'd contributed to this. He hadn't meant to, but he'd been a part of it. And there was nothing he could do to undo it.
Some childish part of him told him that Thor would fix it, Thor would make it right again, he always did, but it was quickly silenced as Loki knew that this time even his brother couldn't fix things.
His survival instinct screamed for Loki to run, but he didn't. He merely sat there.
Natasha, battered and bruised, finally made her way over to where Clint was standing. She reached out and touched his arm, but got no reaction. The archer was merely staring at what was happening around them.
She took a hold of his wrist, holding on tight, and dreaded to feel him crumble or her own grip turn to dust.
And next to them, Thanos stood, watching his achievement, yet there was no smile on his face.
They had all lost.
It was over.
In a laboratory, deep inside Wakanda, Stephen Strange opened his eyes with a gasp. Sitting up, grasping a hold of the pendant, he looked over at the startled Shuri and Zemo pointing a gun at him. “We don't have much time. He's coming.”
Stephen had now seen over 16 million possible outcomes of this battle and there was only way to defeat Thanos.
And that meant there was one death he could not prevent.
One life had to be paid to spare everyone else.
*sigh* I thought the previous chapter was the chapter that would never end. No, that was this one. I apologize for the monster-size of this one, but I found it hard to cut out parts to make it smaller and not affect the flow of the story. I hope you will indulge my story and I can only reassure you that we're down to the final chapters now. One more and then an epilogue, so hang in there!
Also, this fic is not only completely disregarding AoU, it has also been done certain changes to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 movie in my Peter/Saal series which becomes apparent in this chapter. ^_^
Moments after Stephen Strange emerged from his vision of a possible future, there was a flash of light on the battlefield and a massive figure stepped out from it. Thanos had arrived.
Crouching down by the fallen Maw, in front of a stunned Loki and Tony, he collected the fourth Infinity Stone, resting his fingertips briefly to Maw's shoulder, before attaching the stone to the glove with grim determination. There followed an invisible surge of energy.
Clint announced over the communication system: “Thanos just arrived. I hope you're all ready.”
“Stick to the plan, Clint.” Steve's voice said. “The rest of us, he's our main target, but be careful.”
Tony managed to get off one blast before the Titan clenched his glove and sent him flying across the battlefield.
Fighting against genuine terror, Loki began to back away with an apologetic smile, remembering all too clearly what kind of horrors Thanos was capable of inflicting. Loki began stuttering vague flattery to distract him. He was just about to summon a whole bunch of illusions and make his escape when a portal abruptly opened under his feet and he fell into the hole.
Clint Barton jumped when a portal suddenly opened and Loki dropped to the ground next to him. “What the...?” He jumped again when another portal opened on his other side and some guy -Was that the so-called wizard?- poked his head out.
“I need you two to stay here. I'll be back.” The guy said and then he and the portal disappeared again.
Clint stared from Loki getting back up on his feet to where the other portal had been and then back at Loki again. “What the hell?”
Loki brushed some dust off himself. “I preferred him in a coma.”
When the barrier had been opened, Saal had cut down countless Outriders when he found himself facing Cull Obsidian, who had not forgotten their last encounter.
Together with Peter, he kept Obsidian quite occupied, but it took longer than Saal liked to defeat him as the Nova Force kept spiking and twitching inside him. While he'd tried to convince Peter that he was doing fine, the truth was that he wasn't. He was barely in control and he was terrified of what would happen if he lost it, so Saal was forced to fight at a much lesser capacity than before and Obsidian took advantage of it.
The creature's massive weapon brushed by Saal's head as he purposely allowed him to take a shot at him, giving Peter an opening to fly by and unleash a barrage of bullets; forcing Obsidian to back up and block. Which again gave Saal the possibility to dodge around him and fire some shots of his own into Obsidian's back.
Howling with pain, Obsidian threw out a hand and Saal had to channel the Nova Force into his hands to be able to catch the punch that would otherwise thrown him clear across the battlefield. Once the fist impacted with Saal's palm, he grabbed a hold and used the Nova Force to give him the strength to flip him over his head and to the ground; crushing an Outrider in the process.
Slightly breathless as the energy inside him was flaring like crazy, Saal forced himself to continue the attack. He rushed over in a blaze of energy as the monster was getting back up and delivered an uppercut that sent him high into the air; straight into where Peter's guns were aiming and waiting.
Peter's attack sent Obsidian crashing back to the ground again, but Saal was having trouble with his balance and even his eyesight. His head was filled with too much noise. Voices. Anger and hurt. So much grief. He couldn't keep this up for much longer.
It was time to gamble.
“Get out of the way!” He ordered as Peter was about to land next to Obsidian, clearly aiming to throw more insults in addition to the physical damage, but luckily the Terran knew better than to question Saal when he used that tone of voice.
The second Peter was out of harms way, Saal drew a deep breath, gathered the Nova Force to a much larger extent than ever before. Wisps of smoke began to rise from him as he clenched his hands into fists. He kept building it up. While there was no wind to speak of, his hair began to sway gently as if he was underwater.
Peter Quill stared wide eyed as Saal made a gravity-defying jump into the air, hovered unnaturally for a moment, then shot down towards Obsidian to deliver a finishing punch.
The blow made the dirt around them fly up as if there had been an explosion, hiding both of them from Peter for a second, then it fell back to the ground and Peter felt a chill run down his spine at the sight of the standing Saal scowling down at the broken shape of Obsidian.
Meanwhile, back in the laboratory; Shuri was plotting instructions into the computer at an amazing speed. She only cast a quick and almost irritated glance at the one hovering pointlessly behind her. Then an idea struck. “You know how to fly. Make yourself useful.” She gestured to a chair.
Zemo frowned. “What?” His question was answered when a holographic cockpit suddenly surrounded the chair, which had turned into an airplane seat. “Oh.” He then frowned again. “What?”
“Just do it. Keep those creatures away from the city.” Shuri snapped.
Zemo spared her a sour glare, but he did as ordered and took a seat. He blinked surprised when the world around him became what he'd see if he truly had been sitting in the aircraft parked outside the building. With tech like this, Sokovia might've been something more than a rotten state... Shaking off the thoughts of his previous life, Zemo fired up the engine. Time to kill some aliens.
Soaring above the mess, delivering deadly attacks, it was almost too easy. Zemo only reacted when he saw the familiar shape of T'Challa on the battlefield and instantly set course for him.
Unfortunately the helmet prevented him from seeing the startled expression on T'Challa's face when a plane swooped in from out of nowhere and started cutting down the aliens in his way, but the man caught on quickly enough and was finally freed to move forward and could charge directly at the biggest threat of them all; Thanos.
Zemo turned and began clearing the path for the Avenger closest to assist and that was the Black Widow, who also didn't waste any time before rushing at Thanos. While T'Challa delivered a powerful battery at Thanos' face, she slid in from the side and rammed an electric punch to the Titan's knee.
This was also when Sam dove down and delivered another Falcon kick, this time to Thanos' head, which Zemo figured would be more painful than recalibrating and was quite satisfied with that.
An arrow flew by and announced that Clint Barton was in on the action too. Good. But he was fairly certain that the four wouldn't be enough.
Zemo turned the plane and looked for his heavy hitters to get them to Thanos as well. It didn't take long for him to spot Venom despite the chaos, but he was caught up in a close combat with one of Thanos' minions and it would be impossible to shoot at the enemy without hitting them both.
Luckily an option presented itself when Zemo noticed Okoye fighting nearby.
He turned the plane towards her position and quickly dealt with the aliens surrounding her. As there were other planes in the air, there was no way for her to know it was her sworn enemy who'd just helped her out, but when she moved and moved in the wrong direction of where Zemo wanted her; he fired at the ground in front of her and the look she sent up at the aircraft revealed she had just figured it out. If looks could kill, he'd be a dead man.
For a moment, it looked like she was going to defy him, but Okoye did go towards Venom and Zemo was free to scout for Saal and Captain America.
Flying along the barrier, he was not prepared for how the ground suddenly exploded and something huge emerged amidst the fountain of dirt.
There was a glimpse of spinning metal before the plane crashed into it and Zemo inhaled sharply as the world around him burst into flames and disappeared.
It took a couple of seconds for his brain to remember that he was actually in an underground laboratory and not the plane itself. Zemo snapped out of it, jumped out of the chair and marched over to where Shuri was staring up at a screen. “What the hell was that?”
“Trouble.” She stated quietly.
On the screen, compliments of cameras on the bellies of the remaining planes, they saw multiple contraptions, huge spinning wheels, chew their way through the ground and any creature in their path.
Venom growled annoyed as teeth yet again clamped down on Proxima's spear and not any edible part of her. She was damn strong and fast and now beyond pissing them off.
They had gotten in a fair share of hits, but not enough to bring her down. Every time it seemed like an opening presented itself, a wave of Outriders swarmed in and drove Venom back.
~I'm getting damn tired of this broad, buddy.~
~She knows about my kind. Her weapon is adjusted to hurt my kind. I'm sorry, Eddie.~
~Don't you be sorry. Let's make her sorry. She doesn't know who she's messing with!~
A wave of adrenaline rushed through Venom and he made another lunge at Proxima. That resulted in her spear cutting into his side, making both man and symbiote cry out in pain, but also black goo to grab a hold of her and keep her captive.
Venom opened his maw wide, tongue coiling eagerly, drool dripping and he aimed to chomp her head off when an Outrider landed on his back and began biting and tearing at him. Howling, Venom was unwilling to let go of Proxima, but her spear was growing increasingly more painful and the layer of symbiote over Eddie's skin in that area was thinning by the second. If Venom was unable to cover the wound, Eddie would quickly bleed to death. Unacceptable.
Several spikes shot out from Venom's back, impaling and killing the Outrider, but it was only replaced by another one. And another one.
He was just about to release Proxima, seeing no other option, when the Outrider on his back was thrown away, same with the one locking its jaws around his leg, and Venom was surprised to see the woman known as Okoye take up a defensive position behind him.
~Don't question it! Roll with it!~
Venom turned back to Proxima.
Her eyes widened and there was brief but fierce struggle, before the last thing she saw was Venom's maw.
Dropping Proxima's body, Venom yanked the spear out of himself with a pained growl before turning to face Okoye. She was watching him with unsettled distaste, but merely nodded in the direction of some sort of commotion. “Let's go.”
Venom grinned with a frightful display of sharp teeth. The fight had taken a toll on their strength. It was time to eat and replenish!
A small distance from them, Saal was making his way towards Thanos as well. He was still breathing hard, close to exhausted, but determined to keep fighting. If they lost the battle here, Xandar had died in vain and half of the universe would follow. Thanos had to be defeated.
Peter was flying above him, darting from side to side, clearing a path through the Outriders for him and Saal was grateful for the break in fighting.
He was standing a small distance from Clint Barton and Loki, looking down at where others were fighting in vain against an unrelenting Thanos, when the ground erupted and several mechanical monstrosities emerged. Massive wheels with sharp edges that tore up the ground and anything else in their path.
And behind them, Outriders continued to flood in through the opening in the barrier, washing over the remaining soldiers.
With a heavy heart, Saal looked from where Thanos swatted away attacks like they were nothing and the numbers of Outriders showing no signs of diminishing to where the wheels ate through any obstacle in their way. He'd fought countless battles in his military career in the Nova Corps and he could easily calculate how this would end.
To win, they were going to need a miracle.
Or a sacrifice.
Saal looked up at where Peter was hovering, firing both of his guns at the Outriders, and he allowed himself a few moments of just watching him, remembering everything from their first meeting to how his touch had felt not too long ago when he landed next to him by Obsidian's corpse.
“I'm sorry.” Saal whispered, knowing Peter would never forgive him for this, but at least he'd live to hate him.
Saal turned and made his way over to Loki, grabbing his arm as the Asgardian prince threw a dagger at an Outrider. That earned him a confused and angry look, but Saal knew there was no time to waste. “The stone inside Clint Barton. I can destroy it.”
Loki frowned, tugging his arm free. “Are you sure? It might just destroy you and there will be no stopping Thanos from taking it. You better be right, Nova.”
Saal nodded, strangely calm now. “I can do it. You know the Nova Force is strong enough, Loki.”
Peter cackled out loud when he downed three Outriders but he choked on the laugh when he turned to check that Saal had seen that sweet move and found him gone. Struck by a sudden fear, Peter frantically scouted the ground and the fear doubled when he saw him standing with Loki and Clint.
At first he couldn't understand why Saal had gone off on his own without telling him, but then he saw Loki stretch his hand out towards the blond archer and there was a flash of blue and fear was replaced with bone-deep dread. That self-sacrificing idiot!
Peter saw the Tesseract emerge from Clint's chest, saw the archer drop to his knees and when the box shattered to leave the stone hovering in the air. “No!” He screamed. But it was too late.
Saal reached out and closed his hand around the small orb.
There was a painfully bright flash of light and Saal jerked rigid as the power attacked him. His eyes instantly flared up with the Nova Force as the Infinity Stone began burning its way up his arm. The two energies flared and clashed against each other and Saal screamed.
Peter instantly shot towards him, driven by a blind urge to save him, but he'd barely landed before Loki stopped him with an arm around his waist.
“Don't.” Loki ordered in a strained voice. “Or you'll both die.”
“Let me go.” Peter growled, a warning before he would make Loki release him.
Before he could back up the threat, there was a surge of energy that made them both stagger backwards and the light was now so bright they had to shield their eyes.
Still, Peter could hear Saal's pained screaming. And he heard when his voice changed, when it turned twisted and unnatural, when Garthan Saal was pushed over the limit and turned into Nova Omega; a creature of death and destruction.
There was a second surge of power, making the ground shake and several Outriders that tried to attack Nova Omega simply disintegrated.
Thanos grabbed a hold of the Black Widow, threw her at T'Challa, and stalked towards the unbearable light as he clenched his glove to protect himself and save the Space Stone.
Billions of souls inside the Nova Force clashed against the Infinity Stone and the tension built until there was no way to contain it anymore.
Peter blindly reached out for Saal. Loki and Clint both scrambled for safety. Thanos had to shield himself as he was pushed away by the energy whipping and snapping around the barely visible shape of Saal.
The Space Stone shattered.
The energy surge that followed was the most powerful of them all, sending everything within fifty feet tumbling, and a ray of pure power shot up into the air; bursting through the barrier and blinding everyone. Then there was silence.
When Peter opened his eyes again, he was looking directly at Saal. Garthan Saal was standing with his arms stretched out, his face turned up to the sky, but there was no sign of neither the Infinity Stone or the Nova Force. He was too still. Too quiet. Peter hardly dared to breathe.
“Garthan?” He asked quietly.
A breeze flew by and Peter could only stare as the man in front of him dissolved into dust.
At first Peter couldn't believe what had just happened, he was just staring, but seconds later he scrambled closer on his hands and knees and looked around as if they were doing some shitty version of hide and seek. Tears were welling up in his eyes and he was gasping for air. “Saal? Nonono... Saal! SAAL!” He screamed until he tasted blood in his mouth. “SAAL!”
“Peter.” A voice said. A deep and calm voice. Next to him. “I need you to listen to me, Peter.”
Heaving for air, tears running freely, Peter glanced over and found the wizard guy awake and standing next to him.
“Are you listening?” Stephen Strange asked.
Numb, Peter nodded. This was like a bad dream. A horrible nightmare.
Strange lifted a hand to the pendant around his neck. “If I use this, there is a cost. I can turn back time and save him, but there will be a price to pay. Do you understand this?”
Struck by wild hope, Peter shot to his feet and stepped up close to him. “Do it.” He said without hesitation.
“I need you to tell me you understand.” Stephen insisted quietly, staring directly into his eyes as if he could will him to realize the severity of his words. “I need you to tell me you realize there is a price and it must be paid. I can't undo it once we do this. Do. You. Understand?”
Peter nodded, too desperate to care. “Do it.” If he could save Garthan, any price would be worth it.
Stephen lifted his hands, made some gestures and the pendant opened. A green glow radiated from within it.
Peter saw Thanos react like a predator smelling prey, but then everything froze, like the cogs in a huge machinery coming to a grinding halt and be still, but the most unsettling thing was watching time reverse itself.
He watched with morbid fascination as the dust flew back to re-shape Garthan Saal, he flinched at the bright light and he couldn't take his eyes off Saal's fist unclenching and the Space Stone reforming as the Tesseract and going back into Clint's chest.
Strange grunted as he forced the time further back.
Saal backed away from Loki and returned to where he and Peter had parted ways.
“Go.” Stephen ordered.
Peter didn't question him, merely ran off to catch up with Saal and once he did; time twisted and returned to normal.
They was standing a small distance from Clint Barton and Loki, looking down at where others were fighting in vain against an unrelenting Thanos. The ground erupted and several mechanical monstrosities emerged. Massive wheels with sharp edges that tore up the ground and anything else in their path.
Saal swallowed hard and Peter could see the belief in a victory die in his eyes.
Star Lord took a hold of Saal's arm. “I know what you're planning to do. Don't.”
At first Saal looked startled. “How did you...?” He glanced up at the sky, where he'd just seen Peter, then back at him. Unable to connect the pieces, but accepting the odd situation. “If you know, then you also know we got no choice...”
“I have a plan.”
Clearly not liking the sound of that, Saal frowned. “Peter...”
Peter took a hold of his face with both of his hands and stared at him. “I love you.”
Saal's frown deepened and he reached up to take a hold of Peter's wrists. “You're going to do something stupid, aren't you? Don't you dare. Peter Jason Quill, I forbid it.”
Having to laugh a little at the pot calling the kettle black when it came to the stupidity of placing oneself in the line of fire, Peter then merely held his gaze. “Did you hear me? I love you.”
“I heard you. Did you hear me? Don't you...” His words got cut off as Peter tugged him into a kiss and that only made Saal even more worried. He pulled away, holding on to Peter's wrists hard enough to hurt now. “Peter, what...”
Peter released him, twisted his hands free before he smiled and activated his mask. “Don't worry. I've done this before.”
Saal stared at the red-eyed mask hiding his face from him. “Peter!” He noticed Peter pulling something from a pocket and throwing it on the ground, but before he could say or do anything in response to it; Saal was yanked backwards into the grip of the Gravity Mine and Peter switched on his jet boots and flew away.
Stephen Strange watched as Saal was caught by the mine and allowed himself a glimmer of hope despite the pain he knew was coming.
“You know, don't you?” Loki asked, suddenly right behind him.
Strange didn't turn around. “What Quill asks of you, do it.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Opening a portal, Stephen graced him with a quick glance. “He will persuade you eventually, but you could save us precious time by just doing it. You have to.”
Loki's eyes narrowed. “I don't have to. I do what I want.”
“Not if you want to live.” Stephen declared. He stepped through the portal and was gone.
Sam did a hard bank to the left, just barely avoiding the Outrider Thanos just threw at him, and was about to open fire at him again when something caught his attention.
The top of the barrier over Wakanda flickered, brightened and suddenly opened.
He pressed the button to his microphone. “Yo, we might have a problem. The barrier just opened.”
“Just a section of the top.” A female voice said.
“Shuri,” T'Challa sounded surprised, “what are you doing?”
“Opening the door for some back-up. They're right on time, according to wizard-guy.” She replied.
Sam glanced up again and saw something diving down towards them. It was a spaceship. But it was the pilot who made Sam do a double-take. “Guys,” he said over the communication system, “that ship is piloted by a raccoon. I swear; I just saw a goddamn raccoon behind the wheel of a spaceship!” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Barnes, a relative of yours?”
“Hilarious.” Was the deadpan reply from Bucky Barnes over the radio.
“Eyes on the target, people.” Steve's voice chimed in. “Are they really friendlies?”
Sam blinked at what he saw happen next. “Some half-naked dude just jumped out of the ship and dove straight into Thanos, so my guess would be; they're not on his side.”
On the ground, Loki made a face at the woman in the bright armor who also jumped out of the ship. Great. Of course that drunken Valkyrie had survived...
Next to Loki, a fiery portal suddenly opened and while Loki expected to see Stephen Strange appear, he was nearly mowed down by a huge, green and all too familiar shape bounding by him and into the Outriders; sending them flying like a bowling ball hitting pins. Following the Hulk was a flash of metal that took to the sky and began firing at the enemies below, a shape similar yet different from the Iron Man suit. Seconds after that, a man and a woman that shrunk before his eyes and suddenly Outriders got clipped down by invisible enemies. A sticky rope shot out from the portal next, attaching itself to Rhodey's armor and some guy in a red and blue costume swung into the battle as well. And last but not least, Wong stepped through the portal and as it closed behind him, he was relieved to see he wasn't too late. Tracking these people down had not been easy, but hopefully it would be worth it.
A portal opened and closed to allow Stephen to stand next to him, looking at the newcomers. “Well done.”
Wong nodded, eyes on the battle. “You're buying me lunch.”
Not too far from them, three of the big wheels turned to avoid the Hulk and set course for where Loki, Clint, Strange and Wong were standing.
“Tony?” Rhodey called out once he was connected to the system, trying to fire at these alien things while scouting for his friend at the same time.
“Rhodey?” Tony sounded both surprised and happy at the same time. “How did you...?”
“Hey, Mr. Stark!” A cheerful voice chimed in.
“Peter!” Now Tony sounded furious. “I told you to stay put, kid!”
“Yell later.” Rhodey told him. “What do you need us to do?”
“Keep people alive.” Tony answered, and there was a strange kind of pain in his voice.
While the others had been trying to get to Thanos and his minions, Tony had been circling and covering the soldiers from Wakanda. “Cap and the others will deal with the big bad. Let's just try to keep everyone else alive.”
“Roger that.” Rhodey replied.
“You got it, Mr. Stark!” Peter Parker announced.
“You better stay alive, young man,” Tony warned, “because once this is over, I'm going to have Aunt May ground you until you're 35!”
On the ground, just as Tony Stark flew over him, Yondu Udonta strolled casually towards the frontline, whistling cheerfully while his arrow shot through one Outrider after another. He only paused and tilted his head when he saw a familiar face. “Huh.” Yondu mumbled to himself, caught his arrow mid-air with one hand, and then proceeded to saunter over to where Saal finally managed to shatter the Gravity Mine and free himself. “What you crawling around in the dirt for, son?”
Saal grabbed a hold of Yondu's arm and pulled himself up on his feet. “Peter.”
“He Grav' Mine'd you? Why?”
“Because he's going to do something stupid.” Saal forced out between gritted teeth, still leaning on Yondu for support. It seemed like he was barely able to stand.
Yondu frowned, not liking the sound of that or the state of Saal. He'd never seen his eyes glow that strongly before. “Like what?”
“You have to stop him.” Saal pushed Yondu to the side and held out both of his hands in front of himself; halting the giant wheel aiming for them in its tracks with a yellow glow covering it. “Go!”
Saal's eyes flared up even more and his voice sounded wrong when he said one final word: “Run.”
Yondu ran, but Peter had too much of a headstart and he had already landed next to Loki. “I want you to activate the Space Stone.”
Loki sent him him an incredulous glance. “Have you gone completely insane? It'll kill him. And then Thanos will kill us!”
“Just do it!” Peter ordered, then fired up his boosters again and set course for the unsuspecting Clint Barton.
Shaking his head, hoping he wasn't making a massive mistake in trusting Strange, Loki reached out and clenched his fist; shattering the container constricting the Infinity Stone within Barton and unleashing the devastating power that would burn the man alive.
The battle continues and sacrifices is being made.
Clint forced the resentment down in his belly and let another arrow fly. Did it suck being a human surrounded by enhanced people, geniuses in metal suits and unearthly gods? No, most of the time he was quite content by being plain awesome and yet still able to blend in. But when Clint found himself turned into Loki's man-purse for safe-keeping of space jewelery and then put on the back-bench for the big battle? That sucked big time.
He had to keep back and watch as Nat went head-first into danger. All he could do was back her up as much as he could and trust her skills to keep her alive as she didn't hesitate to join in on the charge towards Thanos.
Having Strange dump Loki next to him and tell him to stay there, that didn't exactly further improve things.
Doing his best to ignore the one responsible for 99% of his nightmares, Clint tried to focus on keeping Nat safe. He took out any Outrider getting too close to where she, and others, were doing their best to delay Thanos and even managed to sneak in a couple of explosive arrows at the purple giant himself as well.
One moment he was fine, then his entire world exploded with pain. Clint heard someone screaming in pure agony and realized it was him. He was being burned alive from within.
And the ones surrounding Clint stared in horror as he flared up with a blue light, some would later swear they saw massive wings of pure energy unfold from his back.
Sprinting towards the archer was Peter Quill.
Shielding his eyes from the bright light, Peter reached out and was almost close enough to touch the screaming Clint when the ground turned into quicksand and Star Lord came to an abrupt stop when his legs sunk down to his knees.
“No!” Peter exclaimed, flailing, just out of reach from Clint.
Thanos lowered his glove after clenching it and preventing the thief from taking his stone. “That belongs to me.” He stated, blocking an attack from T'Challa with an annoyed snarl.
Peter tugged frantically to free himself, staring with dread at Clint dying in front of his eyes and knowing it was his fault.
Natasha froze, realizing with horror what was happening to Clint and she instinctively turned to head towards him.
Venom came to a stumbling halt and stared as well.
~The Infinity Stone. It's burning him alive. Too powerful for a human.~ Venom turned its attention to the one responsible for the situation and finally recognized the smell coming from the man now that it was enhanced by the battle. So that's why Peter Quill made Venom uneasy -and why he was trying to reach Clint- Quill smelled a bit like a Celestial.
~We gotta do something!~
Venom agreed, but he was not going to risk Eddie getting hurt while doing it. The solution presented itself above. ”Sorry, Eddie.”
~Sorry? What do you mean 'sorry'?~
The only reply Eddie got was suddenly being flung high up into the air. Screaming, he latched on to whatever he suddenly smacked against and Sam's cursing joined his shrieks as they spun in an unstable flight above the battlefield.
“Man, what the hell do you think you're doing?” Sam snapped angrily, trying to stabilize them both, not charmed at all by Eddie's attempt at impersonating a clinging koala bear.
Once he sensed he wasn't immediately falling to his death, Eddie realized that Venom was gone and staring scouting around for him on the ground, almost forgetting about his fear of heights.
“No chocolate for a week! Two weeks!” He screamed at the top of his voice, spotting the lone symbiote leaping at full speed towards its goal. However, his anger vaporized once he realized Venom's target; Clint Barton.
“What does he think he's doing?” Eddie mumbled, more to himself than Sam really, before tugging on Sam's arm. “That way. That way!” He pointed towards Venom.
Gritting his teeth, Sam changed course with an annoyed grunt. “I'm no damn Uber, Brock!”
Eddie didn't answer, too shocked as he saw Venom jump up and engulf Clint.
Fire was one of the most painful things Venom knew of. The symbiote would never forget the agony of burning as it fell into the ocean after they had saved the world from Riot and the rocket exploded above them, but merging with Clint Barton actually hurt even more.
Wrapping itself tightly around the man, making its way under his skin, reinforcing Clint's body against insane power erupting inside him, Venom's own scream mixed with the human's as they both vibrated, on the verge of exploding.
The Infinity Stone was stronger than anything Venom had met throughout its existence.
Keeping Clint's body from shattering, Venom gathered what little strength it had left and it reached out for the part-Celestial.
Peter Quill was still tugging at his legs, still buried up to his knees in unmoving dirt, when he saw blackness shooting towards him. He automatically straightened and reached out towards it.
There was a massive flash of light when Venom connected with Peter's hand and the energy flooded from Clint to the Symbiote to Peter Quill.
Gasping, Peter's eyes flared white and he shuddered under the onslaught of unbridled power.
Thanos blinked surprised at the sight.
It hurt and it threatened to drown him, but Peter remembered. He remembered when he'd held an Infinity Stone in his hand on Xandar, stealing it in front of Ronan's face, and how it had taken Gamora's voice to bring him back and the Guardians to share the burden. Peter was stronger now. He was going to save them all.
The air smelled like burned metal, his head swirled with countless possibilities of unknown worlds, but Star Lord focused the energy until his skin began to rupture, rays of light shining out from within him, and only then did he hold out his free hand and unleash a deadly column of energy directly at Thanos.
The power slammed against an invisible shield as Thanos instantly clenched his glove and activated the other Stones, but he still grunted at the impact and was forced back an inch. Once he regained his balance and the other Avengers had to back off to not risk getting fried as well, Thanos sneered a smile at the sight of Peter. “You're Ego's boy.”
Struggling under the strain but to stubborn to give in, Peter glared back at him. “I'm the son of Meredith Quill, you purple raisin.” He even smirked a little as he saw Thanos was forced to take another step back due to the non-stop pressure of his attack. “I'm Star Lord. Leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Natasha paused a small distance from them, watching and calculating and barely daring to hope. Clint was suffering, but he was still there, still alive, which meant he could still be saved and her firm focus on the archer was why she failed to see the threat.
No one saw him before it was too late.
A shape shot forward and rammed into Peter Quill, breaking him free from the ground but also breaking the connection with Venom, and the two tumbled across the dry ground in a mess of arms, legs and sparks of energy.
Clint's and Venom's voices mixed in a unified scream as the Space Stone once again began to overpower them without the Celestial to channel it into and Nat ran towards them without thinking.
She'd watched Clint die once before, she refused to let it happen again.
On the ground, a small distance from her, Peter Quill, dazed and confused, automatically tried to free himself from the hands around his throat and it took him several seconds to realize that the shape he was staring up at, the sun behind the shape hiding the features in shadow, was none other than Nova Omega.
Saal's eyes were flaring brightly with the Nova Force, but there was no recognition in them.
This was only a creature aiming to kill the biggest threat on the battlefield.
And it was far, far too strong for Peter to be able to break free.
Unable to breathe, Peter's vision was starting to go hazy when just as sudden; the hands were gone.
Thor struggled to restrain Nova Omega, locking his arms behind his back in a grip that took all the strength he possessed to keep from breaking. He'd heard about Nova Omega as a child, but always thought it was an exaggeration, a bogeyman meant to make Asgardian children behave.
Now the threat was very real.
Peter Quill was squirming on the ground, coughing and trying to regain his senses. His sight was hazy, his hearing muted, but he saw and heard Clint and Venom in their dying agony.
The symbiote was burning away, showing more and more of the man under it and his skin began to crack as well and yet Natasha Romanoff showed no fear as she approached them.
“Clint?” She called out his name and expected him to answer. He didn't. “Clint!”
“Nat...” His voice sounded strange, unnatural, but it was him. “Go...”
“I need you to hold on, Clint.” Natasha said, sounding a lot calmer than she felt. She wasn't foolish enough to believe she could stop the Infinity Stone herself, she had no idea how to save Clint, but she would not leave him. Not again. “You are the most stubborn man I know. I need you to use that and stay with me.” Against her better judgment, she moved a little closer. “Do you hear me?” She allowed a fragment of the despair she felt seep into her voice. “I need you to stay with me. I need you.”
The Red Room had taught her from she was a little child how not to need anyone, how to be an emotionless assassin, but Clint Barton had broken through all of the indoctrinating without even trying or demanding anything of her. He'd loved her, silently and without conditions, and she loved him for it.
Barely able to see his face amidst the bright light and the symbiote, Natasha wanted to reach out and touch him, but she didn't. She knew it would be pointless and it would end up killing her. She had nothing to use but her words. “Stay with me, Clint. Please. Stay.”
Above them, Eddie started pushing at Sam. “Down. Let me down. I need to... That idiot. He's going to get himself killed! He needs me.”
“Down?” Sam asked, realizing they were just over where Clint was turning into a nuclear bomb. “I thought you got sent up here to get away from that?”
“DOWN!” Eddie shouted angrily.
“Alright, alright!” Sam shouted back. He dove down, let Eddie lower his feet to touch ground running and let go once he had regained his balance.
Eddie headed straight for Venom and Clint. There were sharp flashes of light as the energy spiked, he avoided looking directly at it. “Venom!” He reached out.
The symbiote twitched at the sound of that beloved voice and despite knowing how dangerous it would be, Venom still reached out for Eddie in desperation. It hurt so much and Venom was scared.
The second Eddie felt the symbiote wrap around his hand, he was hit with what felt like liquid fire. He did scream, but he did not let go.
~Shouldn't have done that, Eddie. Dangerous.~
~I don't care. We're in this together, remember?~
Peter Quill had managed to get up on his hands and knees, his head aching and his body heavy from the strain of withstanding the Space Stone, when a harsh kick to his mid-section sent him to the ground again.
Corvus Glaive ignored the now incapacitated Terran and focused on Thor trying to restrain Nova Omega. Unleashing the monster would force the enemy to focus on him and leave his father free to claim the final Infinity Stones. Once Thanos had all the Stones, even Nova Omega wouldn't present a problem.
Corvus pulled out a knife and approached Thor, knowing he'd take great pleasure in stabbing the blond and spill Asgardian blood. Those people were always so damn haughty!
He pulled back his hand and was about to ram the knife into Thor's back when something metal locked around his wrist and kept his hand still. Corvus looked over with no small amount of surprise to find Bucky Barnes glaring back at him.
Bucky punched the alien straight in the face with his human fist and used the strength of the vibranium arm to snap the creature's prosthetic arm like a twig as the impact made Corvus back up a step. He released him to deliver a second punch, growling annoyed when it didn't land as well as the first, but it was enough to push Corvus back one more step.
The alien tried to hit back, but the punch was wide of its mark, which made it easy for Bucky to duck and deliver a punch of his own, this time with the vibranium hand, into Corvus stomach and the force made the son of Thanos crumble with a gasp for air.
Bucky was about to follow and continue his assault but was interrupted by a furious roar from Nova Omega and he turned to see Thor having lost his grip on one of his arms. Turning his back on Corvus, Bucky darted over to help Thor restrain what had once been Centurion Saal.
The glow in Nova Omega's eyes was growing stronger and Bucky, his vibranium arm wrapped around the one freed from Thor's grip, suspected with no small amount of worry that they'd yet to see the full extent of his powers yet.
How the hell were they supposed to defeat Thanos 'and' this guy?
“Keep him still.” Loki's voice ordered and suddenly the dark haired prince of Asgard was there and placing his palm to Nova Omega's forehead. Loki closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as his own magic began to battle against the Nova Force.
Peter Quill figured he'd broken several ribs. He could barely breathe. He kept one arm around his mid-section, drawing small gulps of air, when someone knelt down beside him.
“Hey kid.” Yondu said, touching his shoulder. “You okay?”
Peter let his gaze dwell briefly on Saal, no, Nova Omega, restrained and furious, before turning his attention back to his once mentor. “Help me?”
Yondu didn't hesitate. “What do ya need?”
“I have to get back there.” Peter gestured towards where Clint was fighting for his life.
Frowning, Yondu didn't seem delighted by the idea, either fearing for his own life or Peter's, probably both, but he took a hold of Peter's upper arm and tugged him to his feet despite the pained sounds. “Probably another stupid plan of yers,” he muttered, “but I guess you haven't been wrong so far. C'mon.”
Peter closed his eyes in a moment of relief, leaning heavily on Yondu, then straightened as much as he could and nodded. “Let's go.” It hurt like hell, but with Yondu's help, he managed to get close enough to Clint for his plan to work. “You might wanna back up for this, Yondu.”
Reluctantly letting go of him, Yondu hesitated. “You sure about this, boy?”
“No.” Peter smiled sadly, casting a quick glance over at where Nova Omega was still struggling to free itself, before facing Yondu again. “But I gotta try.”
Yondu backed away, not comfortable with abandoning him, but then Peter reached out and touched where Venom was covering Clint's shoulder and there was a strong flash of light.
Injured and already tired, the Space Stone sent Peter to his knees in a second, constantly hammering down on him, and he wondered if he'd just made a terrible mistake.
“Clint! Look at me, Clint. Focus on me.” Natasha ordered, her hands itched to reach out and touch him, seeing him in so much pain. His face had several cracks in it, like cracks in fine porcelain, and there was so much light she could barely see him. “Dammit, Clint!”
Clint Barton heard the anguish in her voice. He wanted to tell her it was alright. She'd come back to him, she still loved him, that was all he needed. He didn't mind dying as long as she was safe and there was no anger between them. The pain had almost made him numb, he couldn't feel his limbs anymore, maybe they had dissolved, he didn't know, it was just an unbearable burning in his chest and head now. The Space Stone touched his soul, showed him the vast universe, beckoned to him.
He wasn't even aware of his eyes closing before he heard Natasha shouting his name again and again, each time with more desperation, and then her hands were on his face.
His eyes opened as he gasped, the Space Stone finding a new outlet and rushing into Natasha as well, but she didn't scream. She merely stared into his eyes and forced him to keep living.
Thanos grabbed T'Challa by the throat, held him up and grinned. “Why do you insist on fighting me? I'm not the biggest threat here.” He turned T'Challa's face to force him to look over at where Thor, Loki and Bucky were struggling against Nova Omega. “I intend to save the universe from overpopulation, hunger and war. That? That simply wants to kill everything. Nova Omega won't stop until everyone is dead.”
Spreading the fingers on his glove, Thanos prepared to clench it and finish T'Challa off for all.
One hand suddenly grabbed a hold of his thumb, the other hand took a hold of his ring and pinkie finger, preventing the glove from closing, and Thanos looked at Steve Rogers with pure incredulity.
The blond bared his teeth as he strained against Thanos' second attempt at closing his gloved hand, but Steve's stubbornness paid off and the glove remained open. It took a hell of a lot of of his strength, especially on Thanos' third try, but Steve was too strong for Thanos to close the glove with one hand.
Snarling, Thanos tried to toss T'Challa away, but the Black Panther dug his claws into his arm to hang on and tapped into his enhanced strength to keep the hand from reaching Steve.
Steve, who was then fighting against Thanos' fourth attempt, yelled in spite and determination as the Titan tried to close his fist in vain.
Finally Thanos lost his temper.
“Enough.” He growled. With a swing of his arm, he slammed T'Challa against the ground and kept doing it until he felt the grip weaken and then he flung the king of Wakanda into two Outriders. Thanos then turned back to Steve and aimed to punch him in the face to free himself. Only the hit never landed as something invisible slammed into his fist hard enough to make him stagger a step backwards.
Scott emerged, growing from his ant size to regular size as he fell unconscious to the ground after he'd rammed himself against Thanos' fist to keep their last hope on his feet. He thought he heard Hope screaming his name, but he was out cold before he could be sure.
Thanos turned his attention back to Steve Rogers.
Steve trembled under the strain of holding Thanos back, but he held on. He glared, a perfect picture of defiance, refusing to buckle even against impossible odds.
Thanos was almost impressed. Maybe it was time to take on another son?
Reflexes allowed Thanos to twist his upper torso so the bolt of energy shot towards him barely missed.
Peter Quill was down on his knees, one hand on the ground to keep himself from collapsing, the other connected to the Space Stone through Venom and Clint. “Steve. Move. Get out of the way!”
Steve felt Thanos trying to pull his glove hand away, needing to activate the stones to protect himself from the next shot, so he held on. “Do it!”
“Move!” Peter yelled. Blood was now running from his glowing eyes.
Bucky struggled to keep Nova Omega from breaking free and even more against his natural instinct to run and help Steve. “Don't be an idiot, Steve!” He yelled, and then whispered; “Please...”
Steve didn't budge, holding on tighter as Thanos realized the danger he was in. “DO IT!”
“I'm sorry...” Peter gasped, unable to hold it back anymore, and lifted his hand; shooting the full force of the Space Stone towards Thanos while knowing there was no way he wouldn't hit Steve Rogers as well.
Several things happened within a couple of seconds.
Peter Quill unleashed another deadly ray towards Thanos. Something massive rammed into Steve Rogers and shoved him out of the way and Drax tumbled to the ground with him. Thanos lifted the glove, unable to clench it in time, but still using the stones themselves to block the attack. Eddie Brock exhaled and collapsed. Hulk followed the fleeing Outriders to one of their ships and punched his way through the hull. Natasha shivered under the increased strain from the Infinity Stone, but kept her eyes locked with Clint's. Rhodey took care of the final Outriders trying to eat the Wakandian soldiers. Hope Pym appeared to drag Scott to safety. Valkyrie came sliding in under the energy ray to deliver a slicing attack at the side of Thanos' knee.
Going down on one knee with a grunt, the Titan gathered his strength and clenched the glove to activate the stones, deflecting the energy attack to nearly hitting Sam and forcing Quill to directing it somewhere harmless.
Triumphant, Thanos swatted Valkyrie away when she tried another attack and he got up on his feet again. “You cannot defeat destiny.”
Web suddenly covered the glove and Peter Parker dug his heels into the ground, holding on, appearing as a minor nuance to Thanos, which was why he never saw the real danger.
Red and gold shot by everyone and straight at Thanos.
Tony Stark grabbed a hold of the Titan. “Jarvis. Give me all you got. We're going up.”
Iron Man shot up in the air with Thanos, only briefly hindered by three of Peter Parker's strands of web that soon pulled the glove straight off Thanos' hand, and then he flew higher and higher.
Furious, Thanos struggled to free himself, but it was hard to reach the iron suit behind him.
“Sorry. Earth is an Invite Only Planet, and you was most definitely not invited.” Tony said, keeping his eyes on the sky and forcing himself not to look back. “It's time for you to leave.”
For a moment, Thanos forgot to struggle. “Stark...”
“You know my name?”
“You are not the only one cursed with knowledge, Stark.”
Breathing a bitter laugh, Tony ignored Rhodey's desperate calls and barely registered how they were now piercing clouds. “Then you know how this ends.”
Up in the dark, in the cold, alone.
The last chapter, the final battle, followed by an epilogue as ch18.
Bucky had suspected but now he was pretty sure; they hadn't seen the full force of Nova Omega yet. The man just kept growing stronger and stronger along with the increased intensity of the light radiating from his eyes. Soon they wouldn't be able to restrain him, even with Loki's magic.
A portal opened and Strange stepped out to stand behind Loki. Placing a hand on Loki's shoulder, Stephen broke his concentration and gained his attention. “I will deal with him. Get that stone out of Barton.”
Usually Loki would be reluctant to take orders from anyone, but he was exhausted from battling Nova Omega and he'd rather deal with an Infinity Stone at the moment. He released Nova Omega and set course for Clint, where there were now spikes of energy shooting out from him, stabbing wildly at everything within a couple of meters.
The second Loki removed his hand, Nova Omega exploited the opportunity. It jerked its shoulder forward and sent Bucky flying, before squirming to take on Thor, but by then Stephen Strange had summoned thousands of metal ropes to wrap around what had once been Saal's body.
It wouldn't last, but it would buy them time.
Venom felt it when Eddie's mind couldn't take the pain anymore and he passed out, but even then his hand refused to let go of the symbiote. Even if it killed him.
At the very limit of what it could take, Venom could feel Peter Quill dying, could feel Clint Barton disintegrate, but all it cared about was Eddie Brock. Beloved Eddie. Its other self. Its other half. Its everything. And so it had to let go, even if it meant the strain would increase on the others and kill them as well as Venom. The blackness reluctantly withdrew from Eddie's hand.
For a while it had been them. It had been 'us' and Venom couldn't wish for more.
Clint knew it the second as he reached his limit. “I'm sorry.” Clint said to Nat in a strangely calm voice. He'd fought as long and as hard as he could. He'd given his everything, for her, for them.
Natasha shook her head. “No.”
Exhausted, Clint closed his eyes and the Space Stone flared up to reach its full potential.
“I do believe that is mine.” Loki's voice stated, rather smugly, and reached out into the air to summon the stone from where he had stored it inside Clint. It emerged to hover mid-air in front of the archer.
Yet another violent flash of light blinded them all for a second, sparkling as fiercely as Thor's lightning attacks, until Loki made a movement with his other hand and a square box materialized around and contained the Space Stone.
Clint, Natasha, Venom and Peter Quill all fell to the ground like puppets who had their strings cut.
Loki quickly hid the newly formed Tesseract in a dimension fold, and turned back to where they were still fighting against Nova Omega. Right. One more threat to go.
Outside the barrier, a ship exploded as Hulk unleashed his rage inside it.
Far, far above them all, Tony was grateful he'd prepared for another trip into space as this time there were no warnings about lack of oxygen or temperatures. He pushed himself even harder to reach the darkness where he'd dump his unwanted passenger and then return home as quickly as possible. This reminded him too much about his dream.
Especially when he broke free from Earth and all around him was darkness and distant stars.
Because it wasn't real, right? No matter what his mind told him. It had just been a nightmare.
Releasing Thanos in the weightless vacuum of space, Tony felt a moment of triumph. He'd done it. He'd cheated destiny, dreams and a generally bad feeling in the pit of his stomach and his head. He'd defeated the bad guy and he was going home. Earth was safe.
His smile lasted until Thanos' fingers dug into his chest-armor and locked around the reactor.
Stephen Strange cast magic after magic, but Nova Omega was soon breaking them faster than he could cast them. Thor tried to land a lightning charged punch but ended up slammed into the ground so hard it actually felt like a minor earth quake instead. Bucky quickly discovered his bullets were useless and his vibranium punches didn't even slow Nova Omega down.
Wong took up position so he kept Nova Omega between himself and Stephen, but even their combined attacks didn't improve things. The creature was just too strong and seemed to grow even stronger by each second. How was that even possible?
Nova Omega was about to bolt forward when both Strange and Wong used restraining spells on it, incapacitating it just long enough for a fourth person to step into the fight.
“Saal?” Peter Quill looked ready to keel over. “Saal, can you hear me?”
Against all odds and reason, Nova Omega actually paused for a second, as if it almost remembered something, before it began struggling against the magic holding it back from killing him.
Peter Quill limped in front of Nova Omega to look directly into its glowing eyes and it made the creature still again. “I know you're in there, Saal. I can feel it. I can feel you fighting.”
Stephen Strange frowned a little, not easing up on his restraints but realizing it made sense. That's why Nova Omega hadn't reached its full potential. Something was restraining it from within. Saal.
Nova Omega snarled.
Peter Quill didn't back away. “You got to listen to me, dude. Listen to my voice.” He actually took a step closer. “I need you to keep fighting, okay? Keep fighting Nova Omega.”
Wong frowned when he saw Peter Quill hold one hand behind his back and a knife suddenly appeared in his grasp.
“It's okay, Saal.” Peter Quill said, now close enough to touch. “Everything is going to be okay...” He tightened his grip on the knife, preparing to attack.
“Don't... you dare...” Peter Quill's voice said from behind Stephen Strange.
The fake Peter Quill managed to jump back and to safety just as Nova Omega broke free from the restraints and grabbed after him. The illusion of Quill drained away to reveal a seriously annoyed Loki.
But the real Peter, his face stained with blood and barely able to stand, ignored Loki's accusatory glare and merely shuffled forward to approach Nova Omega from behind and carefully wrapped his arms around him. “Saal...”
Peter's arms were over Nova Omega's arms and it automatically tensed up to free itself from the gentle grasp.
“It's me, big boy,” Peter whispered against his back, too exhausted to care about the real danger of Nova Omega killing him. “It's time to come back, Garthan.”
Nova Omega shuddered.
“That's it.” Peter closed his eyes. “I'm hurt. I'm hurt bad. Gonna need you to look after me, big boy. Think you can do that?”
Nova Omega's eyes flared and there was a pained sound coming from deep within its chest.
“I need you.” It was nothing but a soft whisper from Peter's lips and yet Nova Omega flinched as if it was hit by a deadly attack.
Stephen watched and waited, ready to start casting more magic, but reluctant to provoke Nova Omega when it was finally still.
What felt like a small infinity passed, then Nova Omega slowly sank to its knees, Peter following the movement, and it remained kneeling, quietly, and stared at the ground with its glowing eyes, seemingly trapped in the embrace of Peter Quill, who was resting heavily against its back.
Only then did Stephen lower his hands, so did Wong, and Loki reluctantly let the knife in his hand disappear again.
Clint was staring up at the sky, drawing short, shuddering breaths and was unable to stop twitching. He was resting his head in Natasha's lap and she was stroking his hair, staring at him, haunted by an irrational belief that he'd disappear if she let him out of her sight. She saw the echo of pain in his eyes, his mind still stunned from the horrible vastness of the universe which the Space Stone had shown to him, and she feared that some part of Clint had indeed died.
Venom crawled up Eddie's arm, merging with his skin, reaching out for Eddie's mind and relief flooded them both when they connected fully and were finally whole again.
Bucky trotted over to where Steve was trying to get up on his feet. When Steve hadn't been able to straighten up by the time he got there, clearly battered from the battle, Bucky merely yanked him up and pulled him into a harsh embrace.
Scott finally opened his eyes and sent the teary-eyed Hope a dazed smile. “Hey...”
“Idiot.” Hope countered with a watery smile, then she bent down and hugged him tight.
T'Challa reached out a hand and helped Valkyrie up, signaling to Okoye that he was alright.
Drax and Yondu gravitated towards each other and sent tense glances towards Peter and Nova Omega.
Sam landed next to Peter Parker, who let his web disconnect and eyed the golden glove lying on the ground a little nervously.
Rocket was busy shooting at one of the many alien ships still parked outside the barrier, while Hulk jumped straight through the engine of one and made it explode.
In the laboratory, Shuri and Zemo exchanged a glance before focusing on the screen showing the battle field again.
Thor walked towards his brother, not even being tired to the bone was able to drown out the pride he felt when looking at him. Maybe that's why it took him several seconds before he realized he could lose him all over again. He had that look on his face. The look that meant he was about to do something stupid. “Loki?”
Loki ignored him, kept staring up at the sky where Tony Stark had disappeared.
“Loki.” Thor tried again a few moment later. “Brother, please...”
Finally Loki glanced over at him. “I'm sorry, brother.” He gave an apologetic smile. “I made a promise...” And with that, Loki used the Tesseract to open a portal and he was gone.
Rhodey landed next to Sam and Peter Parker, to also stare up at the sky where he'd seen his best friend disappear.
“He's coming back, Mr. Rhodes?” Peter asked, sounding awfully young and uncertain. “Right? He's coming back?”
Rhodey kept his eyes on the sky. He didn't answer. What he hoped for and what he feared would be the end result, those were two very different things and he had no reassurances to give.
After Bucky was satisfied Steve wasn't dead, he reluctantly released the blond, a little awkwardly aware of what he'd just done. Steve smiled at him, eyes soft and relieved, reaching out to cradle Bucky's neck and holding him still until he met his eyes and returned the smile.
Only then did Steve release him in turn, look around and the happiness died on his face as he saw Rhodey, Peter Parker and many others stare up at the sky. A heavy unease blossomed in Steve's gut. He frowned and did a mental tally of everyone there. And when he found someone missing, the unease worsened.
Steve made his way over to Rhodey. Looking up at the sky as well, Steve put together what Tony had done and realized there was no way he could help him. “Oh God...”
Unknown Location, Milky Way
Tony had no idea how much time had passed since everything had gone wrong.
It had been this horrible moment when Thanos had twisted around, rammed his fingers into Tony's armor and taken a hold of the reactor piece. The Titan managed to tighten his grip enough for the power source to start shattering before Tony instinctively activated it and fired at him with an energy blast that pushed them apart and floating in opposite directions.
It took Jarvis five seconds to announce he was losing power and tried to start the emergency systems before the HUD went dead and everything became so quiet Tony could hear his own pulse thumping away.
After that, he'd been alone. Thanos had disappeared into the darkness and so had he.
His nightmares following the battle in New York had forced Tony to make his armor better suited for space, including boosters and life support, but he'd not foreseen returning to the black nothingness in a suit already damaged and repaired from a previous battle and having no backup power-source.
Maybe you really couldn't fight against destiny?
Tony had known for many years he'd die alone in the darkness. As much as he'd hated the idea, no matter how the thought terrified him so much it deprived him of sleep, he'd known it would happen. Even fighting against it with everything he had, Tony had known, deep down, he'd die like this.
But if it saved everyone else, wasn't it worth it?
Tony clung to the knowledge that Thanos wouldn't be able to hurt Pepper and that Happy would look after her. Tony knew she would mourn him despite her life probably being better without him. Thanos also wouldn't be able to get to Rhodey either. Peter Parker would go home to eventually become the man Tony knew would be the hero of countless others.
And, despite everything that had happened, Tony found comfort in the knowledge that Steve would protect them all with his life, because that's the kind of guy he was, with his perfect smile with his perfect teeth, and his perfect arms and perfect ass, and perfect hair and... Smiling a little himself, Tony realized he sounded like Howard. Oh, the irony. Maybe it was something in the Stark DNA that made them obsess over Steve Rogers?
He hoped Loki would annoy the hell out of good old Captain America.
But, yeah, the Avengers, his friends, his loved ones, and the people of Earth were going to be okay and that was what mattered to Tony.
He felt a brief moment of peace and acceptance but it only lasted until he became aware of his own breathing. It sounded different. Quicker, as if he'd been running. And wasn't he starting to feel lethargic?
The peace shattered as Tony suddenly realized he was running out of air.
Terror stabbed into him. He was going to suffocate. Tony Stark was floating all alone in space, surrounded by darkness, silence and the freezing cold, and now he was going to run out of air and suffocate!
There was nothing he could do, no way to prevent it, no miracle he could pull this time, and a tiny sound of dread emerged from his lips. His gaze flickered from star to star. His heart was beating frantically inside his chest like a trapped bird trying to escape a cage.
He was scared. He was so scared.
But the darkness didn't care.
“Are you with me, big boy?” Peter Quill asked quietly after a long while had passed, his eyes still closed and his body still resting against the back of someone he had no idea whether was the love of his life or the demise of them both.
For a moment there was no reaction, then Peter felt fingers covering his and give them a gentle squeeze.
Relief made Peter smile and he exhaled the fear he'd been swallowing down. “You had me worried there for a moment, Garthan.”
“I'm sorry.” Saal countered quietly, sounding as tired as Peter felt.
“You're back. That's all that matters.” Peter declared. His mouth still tasted of blood.
“I lost control.” Saal said, radiating defeat. “Again. The Nova Corps were right. I am a threat to everyone.”
“You got it back.” Peter was frowning now, not liking the direction this was taking. “You didn't hurt anyone.”
“I would have killed you.” Saal's fingers tightened their grip on Peter's. “What happens next time I lose control?”
“You didn't kill me.” Peter sat up, staring harshly at the back of Saal's neck. “And if it happens again, I'll stop you again. Don't you start this shit, Garthan. I will punch you in the head.”
Saal glanced over his shoulder to look at him. There was still a pinpoint of light in the pupils of his eyes, but he appeared in control and more tired than anything else. Still, he couldn't help a slight smile.
Once again relieved, Peter gave a nod to show they now had settled that dispute. Then the sound of footsteps caught his attention and he turned to see Yondu and Drax cautiously approaching them. Waving them closer, Peter got up on his feet with a groan. “It's okay.” He held out his hand and dragged Saal up as well.
“He still as crazy as a Kree fanatic?” Yondu asked, his arrow held between two fingers by his side, pretending to be laid back and failing.
Peter rolled his eyes. “He's fine, Yondu.”
“The flying man, will he kill Thanos?” Drax asked, still determined to get his revenge.
“I don't know.” Peter answered honestly, glancing up at the sky where Stark had disappeared. “I hope so...”
“Peter!” A familiar voice called out and they all turned to see Rocket bounding towards them, Groot trotting after him and getting several odd looks from people. Rocket had parked the ship known as Kevin Bacon just inside the barrier. “Peter, he stole the Milano!”
Confused, Peter shook his head a little once Rocket had joined them. “Who?” He then made a face. “How?” He'd left the ship hovering just outside Earth. He was pretty sure he'd locked it too.
“That Asgardian guy. The black haired one.” Rocket said. “I have no idea how he got inside. He just called Kevin Bacon and declared he 'had need of the ship' and he just took off!”
Shaking his head a little, Peter looked around on the field for Loki's brother. He'd better be able to get Peter's ship back or compensation units were coming out of his pocket! But as he was looking from face to face, scouting for Thor, he slowly became aware of something. “Hey, where's Gamora?” He would have thought she would be first in line to kick Thanos' ass.
Peter was so intent on finding Thor that it took him several seconds to realize that he hadn't gotten an answer. Turning back to the Guardians, he also realized that none of them would meet his eyes and a nauseating suspicion began to coil up in his belly. “Hey.” He said, a little sharper, demanding their attention. “I said; where is Gamora?”
They would still not look at him or give him an answer. Even Yondu had turned his face away.
“I'm sorry.” A deep voice suddenly said.
Peter turned and found Stephen Strange standing there.
“I warned you there would be a price to pay.” Strange had a blank expression on his face.
It felt like the ground disappeared under Peter's feet.
Unknown Location, Milky Way
“Stark?” A voice floated through the darkness. “Tony? Can you hear me?”
Tony Stark was floating in the darkness, even the stars had disappeared now, but at least he wasn't cold anymore.
He didn't feel anything, to be honest.
“Tony?” The voice insisted.
Well, he was starting to feel a faint irritation towards that voice who just wouldn't leave him alone.
It was strange, but Tony could have sworn he felt someone grabbing his shoulder and shaking him.
Yet when he opened his eyes, he saw nothing but darkness.
It had only been a split second of hope, but the disappointment was enough to shatter Tony a second time. He was about to close his eyes when cool fingers took a hold of his chin and turned his head and Tony saw a face looking down at him.
Porcelain skin, cheekbones that looked sharp enough to draw blood and emerald green eyes.
Blinking drowsily, Tony stared at the beautiful creature for a while and later he'd blame the traumatic experience he'd just been through for not realizing he was actually staring up at someone he knew.
Clearly reassured at the sound of his voice, Loki still raised a mischievous eyebrow. “Expecting somebody else?”
Still not fully convinced he wasn't hallucinating, Tony answered honestly; “I wasn't expecting anyone to come.”
For some reason, that brought something to Loki's eyes, empathy or a similar feeling. He gave a faint smile. “I promised, didn't I?”
He had, but it hadn't occurred to him that Loki would actually keep his word.
Endless gratitude flooded Tony and he didn't really think about it as he forced his arms to work and he reached out to pull the Asgardian into an embrace. Face half-hidden against Loki's slender neck, Tony let out a shaky breath. “Thank you.”
Loki's own arms went around him, lifting him slightly from the floor he was lying on, and slowly Tony's brain started working at its hyperactive pace and he opened one eye to identify all the sounds he was hearing. Beeps and whirls and a whooshing sound. Computers. Some propulsion system.
“A quick question.” There were walls. He wasn't out in space. He was inside.
“Are we in a space ship?”
“Yes.” Loki pulled back, but held a hand on Tony's shoulder to make sure he'd be able to sit and not fall over. “I had to borrow it. The Tesseract allowed me to find you, but your frail Terran bodies aren't made for space, so I needed to bring you a ride to bring you home.”
Torn between staring at Loki and his own curiosity about how the ship was put together, Tony nodded thoughtfully. “I appreciate that.” He firmly pushed away the memory of floating out there in the darkness.
“What happened?” Loki asked. “What about Thanos?”
Tony shrugged. “Last I saw of him, he was floating away into space.” He made a face. “He can't survive for long out there, right?”
Loki considered it, then he got up and held his hand out to Tony. “Let's get you home. Your companions are probably worried.”
Tony accepted his help, but paused for a moment to lean against Loki while regaining his balance and calming his dizzy mind. “Hey, Silvertongue...?”
“Yes, Tony?” There was amusement in Loki's voice, clearly remembering how demonstrating the reason as to why he'd gotten that nickname had caused Tony to forget his own name and reduced his vocabulary to nothing but vowels.
“I meant it when I said 'thank you'.” Tony mumbled quietly, yet with utter sincerity. He leaned back to look up at him and realized it wasn't just the handsome face or gratitude that made a warmth spread inside him. He knew it would cause him to panic later, but right now he merely tugged Loki down to kiss him.
Hands clenched, feet somewhat widely apart, Peter Quill stood staring at the ground, trying to breathe as he was bombarded with every memory he had of Gamora. The disdain on her face the first time she saw him. How she forced him to become a better man. How she held a mirror up to his face and made him realize it still wasn't too late to change. She'd believed in him. She'd kept pushing him forward. If not for her, he'd either be dead or in the company of very bad people right now. He'd fallen for a damn lawman and she'd helped him earn Garthan Saal's love.
Gamora loved Peter and he'd always loved her.
She'd turned on Thanos to save the Universe. She was strength, beauty, courage, kindness and countless other good stuff all rolled into one person, and Stephen Strange had let Peter kill her.
On their way to Earth to help Peter and Saal once they'd dropped off the refugees, Kevin Bacon had been attacked. They didn't stand a chance against Thanos' ship. He had given Gamora the choice of surrendering herself or watch as he killed the others. It had not been a difficult choice for her.
A rescue mission had been in vain. They had arrived too late. Thanos already had the Soul Stone.
“You clearly don't care whether any of us live or die,” Peter stated quietly, tears in his eyes, struggling to understand, “so why bother to turn back time and let me save Saal?”
Startled by the words, Saal quickly put together pieces, why Peter had suddenly gone from one place to standing next to him and already knowing about his plan, and he realized why Strange had made no effort to stop Saal himself. “To make you desperate enough to do what you did.” He looked at Strange with disbelief and condemnation of him choosing to sacrifice Gamora. “We were the chess pieces. He put us where he needed us to be to win his game.”
“It was the only way,” Stephen stated in a tight voice.
“And we're supposed to just believe that?” Peter snapped, about to step towards the wizard but was halted by Saal taking a hold of his arm. Calming down by pure force of will, Peter swallowed hard and his voice trembled as he pleaded; “Don't ask me to sacrifice her.”
Strange didn't blink. “I'm not asking.” For a second it seemed like there was a glimmer of conflict in his eyes, but he quickly clamped down on it. “It was the only way.” He repeated instead, each word spoken like they were carved in stone.
Peter tugged at his arm, furious, wanting nothing more than to punch Stephen Strange in the face until he couldn't punch anymore, but Saal's grip didn't budge.
Saal's face was as hard as Strange's words, but he made no move to attack the wizard. “Don't bother, Peter. You won't be able to change his mind.”
“No. You won't.” Stephen confirmed.
Peter tore free, but he turned away from Strange so he wouldn't see when he lost the battle against the tears. Saal felt the guilt settle on his shoulders. Rocket, Groot, Drax and Yondu were silent.
A small distance away, Eddie finally felt steady enough to stand on his feet by himself and Venom was a mere black snake poking out from Eddie's shoulder. He was sorry to see that Clint was a broken mess. All this time together, he'd grown to like the archer. They both liked him.
“I'm guessing asking Saal to heal him won't be a good idea?”
”Probably not, unless we want Nova Omega on our hands again. You feel tired, Eddie.”
“It's been a tiring day. Isn't there anything we can do? For Clint, I mean?”
”Infinity Stones are a bit, how did you put it, above our paygrade, Eddie. Who knows what the Space Stone did to his mind.”
Eddie wanted to argue, wanted to push Venom, surely there had to be something they could do, but then he was distracted by somebody shouting and pointing at something.
Venom instantly engulfed Eddie at the sight of a space portal opening. He'd nearly lost his Eddie today. It was not happening again!
But it quickly became apparent that the others were reacting with excitement and not fear and when the portal opened and two figures came walking out from what looked like the inside of some sort of alien ship, Eddie realized why.
It was Tony Stark, sans his Iron Man armor, dressed in dark clothes, and Loki.
Steve marched towards Tony and Loki, relief and nervous excitement painted all over his face. “Tony. Are you okay? You had us worried.” He hesitated briefly in front of Tony, then took the chance and pulled him into a hug.
Snorting a laugh, Tony patted him a couple of times on the back before he was freed. “At ease, soldier.” His gaze paused for half a second on the one figure who kept in the background, Bucky Barnes, before he focused on Rhodey, Peter Parker, T'Challa, Okoye, Thor and others approaching him.
“I swear, man, one day, I'm going to kill you myself!” Rhodey exclaimed, pulling him into a hug as well.
“Get in line.” Tony laughed. “I got 34 messages from Pep and I'm too scared to listen to them.”
“Good. I hope she gives you a real whopping!” Rhodey declared, grinning.
Tony noticed that Loki had halted and was stalling a couple of meters behind him, merely watching them swarming him with a slight smile. Somehow he managed to convey both approval and condescension in that smile. As if he both savored seeing Tony showered with affection and resenting him for it at the same time. Had Loki's friends never welcomed him home?
Tony had just filed away the question for a later time when something shoot through the air and he didn't register what it was before Loki stumbled backwards and pressed his hand against his collarbone where an arrow had burrowed deep into him.
Startled, everyone went into battle positions, only to ease down into tense confusion at the sight of the culprit.
Clint Barton was on his feet, bow in his left hand and his right hand was still raised where it had released the arrow to hit Loki with deadly accuracy.
A little wobbly on his feet, he'd been unprepared for the attack, Loki still grinned through pain. “I thought you didn't miss, little bird?”
“I don't.” Clint replied, his voice flat and hard. “That was just to get your attention.” There were countless broken blood vessels in his eyes, leaving the blue completely surrounded by red, and yet his gaze was as sharp as always. He didn't take his sights off Loki to nock another arrow. “You don't like fire, do you?”
Loki's smirk faded and he grew serious. Dangerous.
“Clint. You're pissed off, I get it, but...” Tony was about to step forward, get between Clint and his target, but Natasha appeared and aimed her guns at him, shaking her head.
Tony hesitated. “You wouldn't kill a team mate, would you, Romanoff?”
Natasha smiled, but it was a scary sight. “No.” She didn't waver. “But I will wing you.” She shrugged one shoulder. “I'm sorry, Tony. But you know how it feels to want revenge, right?”
Tony clenched his jaw tight in frustration. Steve placed a warning hand on his shoulder and shook his head to the unsettled Thor.
“Fine,” Tony eventually blurted out, turning his gaze towards Loki instead of Clint. “Clint, this is stupid. Loki, show him what Thanos did to you. Show him why you did what you did.”
Loki frowned. “Shut up, Stark.”
“No, I won't shut up. You shut up.” Tony glared hard at the Asgardian. “Show. Him.”
Considering it, clearly reluctant to do it, Loki resigned with a faint sigh. “Then I need to touch him.” He sent Tony a triumphant look, knowing there was no way Clint would agree to it and Natasha would shoot Tony if he tried to move over and physically carry Loki to the blond.
Rolling his eyes, Tony turned to Nat. “Do me a favor and point your pea shooters at that tall drink of water over there and guide him to our Apollo so he can do his touchy-feely thing.” When he got no reaction from her, he leaned a little closer and stared into her eyes. “Trust me.”
Natasha glanced over at Clint, who was still shivering and unstable, and she asked; “Clint?”
Clint kept his eyes on his target and the arrow ready to fly. “I think I've had enough of his lies.”
“Come on!” Tony snapped at Clint. “Let him show you. You can always shoot him later.”
Loki and Thor both sent Tony offended looks, but Clint remained stone-faced.
Seconds passed, then Clint nodded.
Natasha moved over to keep one gun on Tony and one on Loki as he walked towards Hawkeye. She was not comfortable with this situation, but if this was Clint's wish then she would make it happen.
Loki halted next to Clint as he lowered the bow. The blond was pleased to see the blood between Loki's fingers where he was pressing a hand around the arrow buried just above his collarbone.
Loki lowered the hand and reached out with bloodstained fingertips. “Just remember, Barton, this was Stark's idea.”
“Oh, I know.” Clint said, and the tone of his voice didn't sound good. “And you should know that if this is a trick, Nat will plant a bullet in your head.” In fact, the tone reminded Loki of when the archer had been under the control of the Mind Stone and shaped into a remorseless killer.
Until now, Loki had always thought the stone had turned Clint into something he wasn't to serve Loki's will, but with no small amount of fascination; he realized he was wrong. The Mind Stone had merely unleashed what was already there. Clint Barton was just damn good at controlling and hiding it.
No wonder the red-head was so drawn to him. Two of a kind. But Loki was willing to bet the Tesseract that none of the other Avengers knew what the woman sensed in him.
Loki placed his fingertips to Clint's temple, looked into his blood-filled eyes, and dragged the archer into his memories.
For a second they both flailed inside the memories. Clint, because he was already unstable from the Space Stone, and Loki because he didn't want Clint to see too much of his past. It took a lot of will power to force them to the right moment; when he fell through space and into Thanos' grasp.
Driven by spite, Loki didn't hide the pain and the fear and the desperation he'd felt during his time as a prisoner of the Titan. He let Barton see him screaming in pain from the torture, he let him feel his panic and desolation. The hopelessness. The days and nights that never seemed to end. The loneliness and the despair. The moment when he nearly broke.
There was so much pain. It was almost a weak word for what he was exposed to. Loki had not known it was possible to hurt like that.
Then, his one chance for freedom. His insane gamble to save himself as well as the universe. Frantically hoping he was a clever as he himself thought he was.
Thanos would kill them all if he failed so failure was not an option. No matter the cost.
He took the chance, grabbed it with both hands, and he knew the clock was ticking; counting down the minutes until Thanos realized Loki wasn't going to come back and he'd come searching for him.
Hiding the Space Stone in Clint Barton, his ability to go unnoticed making him the perfect hiding spot, Loki allowed himself a faint glimmer of hope.
Thanos might still catch and kill Loki, but without the Space Stone, he would never be able to use his Infinity Glove and the universe would go on. Frigga, Odin, Thor and Asgard would be safe.
Clint opened his eyes with a gasp, emerging from Loki's memories as he removed his touch. Nat instantly lifted her gun towards Loki's head, but the archer lifted his hand to signal he was okay. She lowered the gun a little, but remained vigilant.
Loki stared stubbornly somewhere over Clint's shoulder. “That's why.”
“You could have told us.” Clint said in a cold voice.
“You wouldn't have understood. Not really. Not back then. There was so much you didn't know. We didn't have enough powerful allies.” Loki's voice wasn't exactly warm either. “Even now, after everything, we couldn't defeat him. We're lucky we managed to prevent him to use the Glove.”
“I don't feel lucky.” Clint replied bitterly.
“You're lucky you're alive to feel anything.” Loki said. “We're all lucky to be alive.”
For a moment, Clint was silent, merely staring at Loki, then he stuck his chin out a little. “I want you to look into my memories.” That made Loki send him a surprised look, but Clint continued; “I want you to see what you made me do. I want you to feel it.”
Loki almost smiled. Yeah, Clint Barton was definitely a lot more interesting than most people gave him credit for. “If I do this, you won't have your woman shoot me?”
“Nat would easily shoot any man who claimed he owned her.” Clint said. “But if you do this, I give you my word that I won't shoot you.”
“Good enough.” Loki reached out and touched Clint's temple again. How bad could it be?
In a flash, he felt how Clint had screamed and raged against every kill he had been forced to do under Loki's control. His desperate battle to regain control over himself and failing. The helpless feeling, having to watch and listen to himself do things against his will. A puppet. A weapon.
And worst of all; the aftermath. The guilt. The looks. The whispers. The never ending fear of suddenly losing control again. More guilt. Maybe he could have fought harder, somehow, and stopped himself from killing those people. Maybe it was just his own damn fault for being weak?
Gods, the guilt was threatening to suffocate Loki.
Names, faces, victims, families, they all started to flash in front of Loki's eyes. Funerals. Tears. And even more guilt.
Yanking his hand away, Loki stumbled a step backwards and was almost grateful for the jab of pain from the arrow still buried in him. He automatically reached up to press his hand against the wound, but the lingering guilt was worse than the physical hurt. Loki sneered at the feeling.
Clint exhaled, dropping his bow and arrow to the ground and nodded. “Good.” He nodded once more, then his legs gave in and he collapsed.
Natasha instantly holstered her guns and rushed over to his side. She made no attempt to hide her relief to find him exhausted and not dying. Clint sank against her and closed his eyes. It was over.
Thor was instantly by Loki's side, yanked out the arrow and ignored the pained yelp and his brother yelling; “You're not supposed to do that with arrows!” He hugged him instead.
Tony stared from one to the other, noted Peter Quill and his small gang being upset over something over there as well, and he suddenly felt as exhausted as Clint looked. Throwing his hands out, he said; “It's over now, right?”
The only answer he got was an alien ship exploding outside the barrier.
So we have reached the end. This was a uphill battle to finish, but I did it! I wanna thank every one of you who left a comment, which inspired me to actually keep writing. Thank you so much, everyone single one of you!
Now, I know it sounds a bit like there is a sequel in the works, which was the intent, but with inspiration and muses abandoning me, that's not likely, but I hope you still will enjoy Icarus Falling.
Oh, and for the one poor soul who did the mistake of asking for a fic about T'Challa and Zemo. You have unleashed a monster and it will be on AO3 soon! ;)
Epilogue: One week later.
Baron Strucker walked towards his office without looking up from the paper he was reading. He'd walked these hallways a thousand times before, but this report on the energy signature they'd mapped in Clint Barton was new. It was quite fascinating. It actually showed certain similarities to the energy source in Loki's scepter. They were going to have to have a second look at him.
He was somewhat less pleased about what they had been able to read from Eddie Brock's blood samples. It had given him little to no information as to the nature of the organism that had bonded to Brock and had abilities that would give Hydra the soldiers it so sorely needed.
Strucker had taken two steps into his office when he became aware of two things. One, his office was a mess. Two, he was not alone.
Hearing some liquid dripping behind him, Strucker slowly turned and was surprised to see a black monster of teeth and oil emerging from the shadows. The sound came from the drool dripping from what seemed like a parody of a smile; all sharp fangs and no kindness.
”Remember us?” The creature asked.
Strucker swallowed hard. “Eddie Brock...” He slowly reached for the gun holstered by his side.
”We are Venom.” The maw opened wide and the monster jumped at him.
Later, walking down a hallway to exit the compound, Venom grumbled at how he wasn't allowed to play with his food or eat the rest of the remaining Hydra, simply because Eddie 'was in a hurry'.
~I'm telling you; this interview is my big break! Have you any idea how many Cletus Kasaday has turned down for an interview?~
”Have you any idea how little I care?”
Eddie was about to snipe back at the symbiote when they both paused at the sight in front of them.
At the very end of a large room, two cells with glass walls. Inside the cell to the right; a girl with brown hair and distant eyes were manipulating objects to float mid-air. Next to her, a blur most of the time, was a young man flickering from one end of the room to the other.
~What the hell...?~
The battle against Thanos and his henchmen had resulted in several casualties and T'Challa had spent most of the following days to deal with the consequences and do whatever he could for the families of the lost ones, as well as making sure the injured soldiers were looked after. The alien ships had to be dealt with. Alien corpses had to be removed and burned.
In addition to this, there had also been the unsettling realization that no one could find the body of Corvus Glaive.
All of this made it so an entire week had passed before T'Challa became aware of the fact that he'd forgotten to lock up Zemo again and the man had merely remained by his side and aided with whatever he could.
Zemo was as closed off as before, but he'd made no attempt to escape or shown any interest in the outside world. It gave T'Challa an idea. A crazy idea, but it also made sense.
“I want you to become a part of my Royal Guards,” T'Challa said.
Zemo stared at him, utterly devoid of any visible emotion, and when there was no reply T'Challa had to ask: “Did you hear me?”
“I thought you were joking.” Zemo said, his voice as flat as his eyes.
“No joke.” T'Challa countered. He added, just a touch softer; “My father is gone. I can't give you your family back. But I can give your life some kind of purpose.” When there still was no response, no visible reaction, T'Challa said; “If you prefer, you are welcome to return to your cell. But I think it would be a waste. You say you want to make up for what you did? You can start by protecting this king of Wakanda.”
Zemo's eyes narrowed by the tiniest fraction, his clever mind coming to life when considering the deal and its consequences. Finally he stuck his chin forward. “You are sure about this?”
“I am.” T'Challa didn't hesitate. “So what is your decision?”
Zemo held his gaze. “If you want me, my loyalty is yours.”
“Then it is settled.”
Bucky arched his back off the floor, his vibranium hand blindly reaching out for something to anchor him and he got a hold of the leg of the massive wardrobe standing there. When his entire body tensed up and a groan tore its way up his throat, Bucky was entirely unaware of shattering said leg within his grasp as euphoria raged through his veins.
He was pretty sure he died and was brought back to life again...
Seconds later, he was too busy gasping for air, staring up at the ceiling, feeling Steve lying on his back next to him, to remotely care about the wardrobe falling over next to them.
He'd stopped caring about anything but Steve somewhere between them breaking the bed and cracking the eastern wall of the room.
A soft kiss to his sweaty shoulder brought Bucky back to reality and he slowly gazed over to meet Steve's flustered grin with a soft laugh of his own.
Yeah, okay, there were some advantages of having enhanced bodies.
One of Bucky's legs was on the mattress that was halfway on the floor due to the collapsed bed being at a 45 degree angle. There was something soft behind his head on the floor and he suspected it was one of the curtains. Steve had plaster dust on his left shoulder. His golden hair was dark and several strands were clinging to his temple due to the sweat. His eyes were so very, very blue...
Bucky reached out his human hand, slid it behind Steve's neck and pulled him over for a kiss.
For a moment, it was a sweet exchange of unspoken words of adoration and affection, but then Bucky couldn't resist and dug a teasing bite into Steve's lower lip and of course he responded to the challenge just like Bucky knew he would.
Things were just getting interesting, Bucky had Steve on his back, shattering the open wardrobe door as he landed on it, when they were interrupted by loud banging on the bedroom door.
“This is an intervention!” Sam's voice called out, clearly annoyed. “You two been hiding in here doing the nasty for a week now. Steve, you and me are going to basketball game. Start getting ready. If you gotta bring that hobo, fine, I guess, but we're leaving in thirty minutes! Clock is starting now!” A few seconds of silence. “And don't make me kick in this door to drag you out of there.”
Bucky lifted his head and grinned down at Steve.
Even more flustered, Steve tried to appear unfazed. “What do you say? Wanna come to the game?”
Ever since his return to the US, Bucky had been reluctant to go outside. Crowds made him uneasy.
Bucky thought about it, rested his weight on his vibranium arm to have his human hand free to trail his fingertips along Steve's lips when he gave his answer; “Okay.”
And the joy in Steve's eyes made it all worth it.
Clint watched Natasha leaning against the frame of the doorway to the balcony, observing the regular people going about their regular lives, and he took in everything from the beautiful curve of her hip, to the sun caressing the red hair and the calm in her eyes. Lying on the bed, propped up by every pillow he could hoard in the hotel room, Clint felt more relaxed than he had in years.
After the battle in Wakanda, Clint had been exhausted for what felt years but in reality was a week. He kept having nightmares, kept seeing things that no human mind should see, kept wondering if Loki had tricked him somehow and left the Stone inside him after all. Nat had asked him if he really was okay with not killing Loki. He told her the truth; he didn't know, but he hoped he would be.
But now, watching her, feeling stronger and strangely at peace, Clint realized there was actually one thing he wanted more than revenge.
“Let's do it.” Clint said out loud. “Let's go for it.”
Natasha looked over at him, frowning. “What are you talking about?”
“Kids. Family. Let's do it.”
At first she watched him carefully, then Natasha frowned, crossed her arms and stared back out at the city. “It's not that easy.” She swallowed hard. “You just assume... What if I can't, or you can't?”
They both knew they had given plenty experimental drugs to her in the Red Room and who knew what the side-effects of being exposed to an Infinity Stone was?
“So we adopt. Who cares? They'll still be ours.” Clint got out of bed and walked over to her. “Lets have something we can fight for too.”
“It's risky.” Natasha pointed out quietly. There was a rare appearance of vulnerability in her eyes.
“It always is when it's something worth having.” Clint carefully slid an arm around her, kissing her temple. “And we'll protect them. It's what we do best, right?”
Nat was battling against a smile and losing. “Them?”
Feeling a little braver, Clint inched closer and dared a kiss to her neck. “Yeah, I was thinking... twelve? Six boys, six girls.”
That actually lured a snort of a laugh from her and Natasha even tilted her head to give him access to more of her neck. “Only twelve?”
“We can discuss numbers later.” Clint let his lips move up to brush by her ear, lowering his voice; “What do you say?”
Natasha leaned back against him. She absently stroked her fingers over the arm he had around her waist, smiling a little.
The moment was interrupted by Clint's phone ringing. Sighing annoyed, he reluctantly disentangled himself from Nat and went over to pick it up from the night table and answer it. “Barton.” He blinked surprised. “Eddie?” He went into utter confusion. “You found what? You did what?” Clint waved a frustrated hand. “We're in Budapest. It's going to take a couple of hours. Stay where you are. We're on our way.”
While the repairs were still being made after the battle against Maw and the mind-controlled Thor, Tony had insisted on returning to the Avengers compound. Loki was lounging in the sofa Rhodey had placed in the workshop after Tony had fallen asleep in his workshop for the fourteenth time while manically tinkering away on some new project when they'd first moved in there. Tony himself was currently gesticulating enthusiastically over some hovering blueprints while Bruce Banner appeared unable to decide where to send his worried look; Tony's project or Loki's presence.
Banner's presence had unsettled Loki at first, nervous that the green monster would appear again, but when that didn't happen; Loki quickly learned to ignore the man.
“With fully automatic suits and the AI to run them, Earth's defenses will be enough to make any alien think twice about invading.” Tony pressed some buttons and the simulation of using the Mind Stone to power the AI started running on a screen.
Loki frowned. While he had his Tesseract safely stored away for his own use, he had not been thrilled that Thor had allowed Tony and Bruce to experiment on the Mind Stone. The Infinity Stones were magnets for trouble and he suspected Tony had been through enough to last him a couple of life times.
Loki could handle whatever trouble the Space Stone would cause him, but he wondered if Tony really knew what he was playing with. It was a troubling thought.
Thor had been surprised at Loki's decision to stay on Earth, Tony had seemed pleasantly so, but was forced to reluctantly accept it and had left with Valkyrie, along with the Reality Stone and the Power Stone, to rejoin Heimdal and the remaining Asgardians. Loki wanted to wish him luck, but he had no doubts that the oaf would create something even more amazing than what Odin had achieved because of course he would. He was Thor, after all.
No, Loki was finally free of his past and he was determined to find his own place in this universe.
As for Tony Stark, well, Loki suspected he was bound to keep his interest for a while. The man was... fascinating.
In that moment, despite the impossibility of Tony being able to read Loki's mind, the man glanced over at him, tuning out Banner's speech, and when their eyes met; Tony smirked with a confidence no Midgardian should be allowed to wear near a god.
Peter Quill stared down at the small container in his hand. Inside the container was the Soul Stone and his only hope.
Wong had handed him the powerful Infinity Stone and given Saal a book from the Sanctum on the day they had left Earth, wishing them luck and telling Saal to stay in contact. (If not for the aid he'd given them, Peter might have been offended at how clearly he told Saal to stay in touch, not Peter.)
There was the sound of footsteps and Star Lord glanced up to see Garthan Saal standing by his seat.
“You okay?” Saal asked, probably for the thousandth time in that week.
Managing a faint but true smile, Peter pulled him down for a light kiss. “Yeah.” And because it felt good, he kissed him again. This time, making it last.
“If y'all gonna be touching each others junk, git to yer room, boy!” Yondu's voice suddenly declared.
Peter grumbled annoyed against Saal's lips. “Why is he here, again?”
Rocket, Groot and Drax were in Kevin Bacon, the ship flying next to them, but Yondu had insisted on joining Peter and Saal for some reason.
“I'm here to keep you focused, you brat. Clearly you need someone to keep you focused.”
“You're being a damn prude, man.” Peter countered.
“Oh yeah?” Yondu exclaimed. And promptly yanked Saal around, took his face between his hands and planted a firm kiss on his lips.
Garthan was too shocked to react, but Peter instantly jumped up from his seat. “Hey!”
Releasing a gawking Saal, Yondu smirked. “Not so fun watching is it?”
“You want a lawman, you kidnap one of your own!” Peter stated, taking a hold of Saal's wrist for good measure.
“So you admit to kidnapping me now?” Saal asked in a dry tone.
“No.” Peter said, then continued to argue with Yondu.
Sighing, Saal slid by him and took Peter's seat in his stead. He looked down at the sheet lying on top of the panel, studying the hand-scribbled notes they'd made while trying to translate the texts Wong had given them from the Sanctum.
The legend of the Soul World.
As Peter and Yondu fought, Star Lord reached back to touch by Saal's shoulder and Garthan absently reached up to braid their fingers together.
The Guardians of the Galaxy had a mission.
They were going to get Gamora back.
Stephen Strange stared at the Time Stone. The green reflected in his eyes.
Wong stepped up next to him, looking at the stone as well. “You saw what happens next, didn't you?”
“Well? What happens next?”
Stephen Strange turned to face him. “Now we prepare for a new battle.”
And for those who want to continue with T'Challa and Zemo after what happened here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/18233243/chapters/43139522