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Situation Report: August 1, 2062

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Thor buries Jane Foster.

They had shared a good life together. They had never married, never had children, but they reveled in their work and took joy in each other's achievements, and they learned to love each other's worlds as fiercely as they loved each other. Thor never suffered from any delusions about how long they might have; he had always understood that the lives of mortals - no matter how dearly one might wish otherwise - could never be more than a flickering flame. His knowledge, however, did nothing to lessen the pain of her passing.

Thor stands alone after the burial, in the way of his people, then calls on Heimdall to open the Bifrost.

Before returning to court, Thor sits on a nearby bench and gazes unseeing in the direction of the rainbow bridge. He sits there a long time, lost in what Frigga - the mother of his heart if not perhaps of his blood - has, more than once, laughingly referred to as his OdinNap.

When he is once again aware of his surroundings, he discovers he is not alone. Loki sits silently beside him, the fingertips of his right hand rest lightly on the back of the bench.

Thor takes a deep breath, then releases it and turns to face Loki. "Brother," he says quietly.

Almost imperceptibly, Loki's lips purse and his eyes narrow. Even now, after so many years, Thor can see the word 'brother' must sometime feel raw and painful to Loki, like the bark of a tree scraped over sensitive skin, but Thor will not take it back. In reply, Loki only lays his hand on Thor's shoulder and squeezes briefly in support, before rising and walking away.


Ten years earlier, Clint Barton had passed on - alone, but not unhappy.

A superhero, but not superhuman, Clint's hard-fought life caught up with him, and he retired from active field duty far earlier than he had ever planned to do.

At the instigation of then Assistant Director Maria Hill, he transitioned more easily than anyone alive could have expected into a supervisory role, surprising even himself with how readily he took to his new position.

And if some of his long-time associates were struck by the familiar calm, measured tone of his voice over the comm, or noticed a striking similarity between the way Clint ran his operations and the way ops had once been run by a man whose name and reputation were now only a part of S.H.I.E.L.D. legend to the younger agents, well...they kept it to themselves.


Natasha had disappeared entirely.

While Clint still lived, she surfaced now and again, staying at his apartment for two or three days at a time before vanishing once more.

They had tried, just once after Clint retired from active field duty, to adapt to the realities of their new working relationship, but it proved to be impossible. Natasha smirked every time she called Clint her "handler," and both of them tried so hard to keep from laughing when Clint gave Natasha her first order that the mission was almost compromised right then and there. With no regrets whatsoever, Natasha retired from S.H.I.E.L.D., returning to New York City only when her fellow Avengers most needed her.

After word of Clint's death reached Natasha, she returned to the city one time only to speak briefly with Bucky Barnes, her first and most trusted former colleague.

Rumors surfaced on occasion about her whereabouts, but they remained just that: rumors. Neither S.H.I.E.L.D. nor its counterparts in the intelligence community could ever confirm a single sighting. If the former 'Winter Soldier' had information of his own, he wasn't saying.


Steve Rogers, thanks to the long-term effects of the Super-Soldier serum, was still apparently quite a young man. He'd considered retiring the shield permanently more than once over the years - disagreements with various governmental bodies over questions of ethics usually being at the root of his dissatisfaction - but each time his sense of duty caught up with him, and so for the foreseeable future, at least, Captain America remained leader of the Avengers.

In his private life, 'Captain America' was just Steve, a kid from Brooklyn who went to church most Sundays, liked to sketch in his spare time, and shared a home with his oldest friend, Bucky.

Bucky, still appearing little more than a young man himself, had long since had his cybernetic arm removed, wishing to have as few reminders as possible of his lost years. The arm was replaced by a less lethal and more flexible prototype created by the Stark Industries R & D division.

Despite no longer being quite as dangerous a 'weapon,' soon after Bucky's return, Nick Fury had invited him to join the Avengers Initiative. However, Bucky refused, choosing instead to take advantage of his long-dormant G.I. Bill benefits and pursue an education.

It's unlikely that the creators of the Winter Soldier could ever have imagined their creation teaching American History at Columbia University in New York.


Tony Stark continued to work with the Avengers for ten years, but when Pepper shared the entirely unexpected news that she was pregnant with twins, "I am Iron Man" instantly became "I was Iron Man," as Tony decided on the spot to stay home with the children, determined not to be the kind of father that Howard had been.

He continued to work in his lab, although with many more safety measures in place, especially when the children were small, and he actually attended board meetings with Pepper - occasionally even paying attention to what the members of the board were saying. Nobody - not even Pepper or Rhodey - thought Tony could manage to keep his nose out of Avengers' business on a permanent basis, and of course he didn't, but he limited his involvement to times when the safety of the world was at stake, and no matter how tempting it might have been, he never took the suit out again.

Tony saw his children get their B.A.'s, both in the humanities (and how that happened, he never quite understood) and even attended his son's wedding. Edwin's fiancée's family took Tony and Pepper up on their offer to pay for the wedding, surprised that the Starks had left the planning to them instead of pushing for a lavish, over the top affair. The only thing that marked the event as different from a normal wedding was that the ring bearer was a one-armed robot named Dum-E.

After Tony's death, Pepper moved back to Malibu to live with their daughter Maria and her wife, but continued to travel to New York City on a regular basis for business. She had long since retired from her position as CEO of Stark Industries, but still sat on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum and the Maria Stark Foundation.

And she always made sure to visit Bruce when she was on the east coast.


When the Avengers assembled for the first time, Bruce Banner was already on the cusp of middle age, and by 2062 he was quite an old man.

The Hulk, however, was showing no sign of aging.

*

Despite having forged a number of unexpectedly close relationships in the early years of the 21st century and - even more unexpectedly, having retained many of those friendships - Bruce still found it difficult to share his private fears with others. He did finally make an exception, however, when it came to his growing concern that he seemed to be losing a great deal of waking time, more and more often as the years passed.

The vast majority of his friends, however - at least those with whom he discussed this concern - assumed that it was all merely an unfortunate, if expected side effect of the normal aging process and that Bruce was simply growing increasingly forgetful as the years passed.

Bruce, however, was pretty certain that this was not the case.

He was tired. He was growing frail.

The Other Guy was not.

Bruce was rarely angry these days, but his alter ego no longer seemed to need the catalyst of Bruce's unchecked anger to make an appearance.

One day - one day soon, Bruce imagined - he'd be gone entirely.

And all that would remain would be the Hulk.