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Assembling - Chapter 5

Title: Assembling
Author: jaune_chat
Fandoms: The Avengers
Characters/Relationships: Tony, Steve, Bruce, Thor, Clint, Natasha, Maria Hill
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 28,728
Spoilers: Uses elements up to The Avengers.
Content Advisory: Action/Adventure, medical emergency
A/N: The second half of this story written for wipbigbang (first 11k written in 2013, last 17k finished in 2017). Amazing art by ensign_c. Also on Tumblr here. Thanks to brighteyed_jill for betaing!

Art: Amazing art by ensign_c can be found here.

Summary: The Avengers Initiative is assembling: The Thunderer - Tony Stark, Iron Man - Thor Odinsson, Captain America - Natasha Romanov, and The Black Widow(er) - Steve Rogers are being thrown together to go after one Clint Barton, who can become a rage monster known as the Hulk, and his bow-wielding protector, the radiation scientist Dr. Bruce Banner. Together these six people might just be able to save themselves and the world they've taken by storm.

On Ao3 or below the cut


Director Hill could handle damn near anything, from Asgardian runes being burned into the deck of the Helicarrier, to the very unwelcome news that sonic mind control was only the tiniest part of the shitstorm about to be unleashed somewhere on Earth by people whom she had employed.

“I’ve got every search algorithm you specified going across every SHIELD site, satellite, and lab. We’re pinging some possibles off the Eastern Seaboard right now, so the Helicarrier is rerouting that way as we speak. Soon as we get a pinpointed position, you six are on a Quinjet and gone to stop this thing before it starts. Go suit up, I don’t think it’s going to be long.”

--

“This way.” Natasha lead the way into a room not far from the hangar bay, this one lined with lit, Plexiglass-fronted cases. Thor’s armor stood in one, the chest reactor glowing softly. Natasha’s red, white, and blue uniforms were displayed in another. There were more, each one labeled with a name in the Avenger Initiative, each one full of selections of armor, weapons, and tools. Clint moved to the one with his name on it, touching the ID panel next to it in reverence. The cover whooshed up to give him access to the sniper rifle, the varied ammunition, the scopes, tripod, gauges, and other accessories of a sniper’s kit. It was very unlikely that they’d need a sniper for what they knew was coming, but Clint’s shoulders relaxed just getting his hands on the gear. There was an irony not lost on anyone that the towering rage monster inside Clint could be quelled by instruments of death. He checked everything over, then set is aside with a sigh of satisfaction. Next to the rifle case was an armor stand, a vest on it in the same deep purple as Clint’s old squadron, with a subtle “A” patch on one shoulder.

“Not much need for this,” Clint said, shaking his head. “Even when the Hulk’s not in the driver’s seat, he keeps me whole no matter what.”

“Whether he likes it or not,” Bruce muttered, too soft for Clint to hear across the room, but audible enough to Natasha. He looked haunted when he said it, and Natasha didn’t need it spelled out how lonely and desperate both of them must have gotten during their time on the run.

“You have combat experience, and if you can get the Hulk to stay down if the vest takes a hit, that’s one less Incident for you,” Steve said. Clint turned to look at him, surprised. “We’ll need him from time to time, but if Dr. Banner is needed to shut down whatever device they’re using to open the Tesseract, then we’d like you to have options on how you want to protect people.”

Clint started and stopped a half-dozen times, trying to find words. After gaping like a fish for a few moments, he finally got out, “I get a choice?”

“We aren’t General Ross,” Natasha said, speaking the name with distaste. She’d had her fill of the arrogant general within one minute of meeting him, back when she’d first thawed out. He reminded her of some of the worst people she’d met in the war, particularly when she’d been playing a secretary and had seen them at their most arrogant. “You know what’s coming. You seem like someone who wants to help, rather than hide.”

Clint grabbed the vest with steady hands, and turned to Dr. Banner, beaming.

“We’ve got you covered, Doc,” Tony said, getting a gleeful gleam in his eye as Bruce opened up his own compartment. There was a quiver of unusual size, bristling with enough arrows to take down the expected army of nasties, and the bow had buttons on the grip to let him select the type at will without having to fumble for them. Slightly tinted glasses to protect his precious eyes, and a full suit of protective gear, cut for maximum mobility, in a green slightly reminiscent of the hunting camouflage he used to wear, and a protected Starkphone in a shatterproof case rode on his hip, along with other compact survival supplies.

“If that phone has anymore bells and whistles, you’ll jingle all the way downtown,” Tony said with pardonable smugness. “It’s connected to a secure mainframe I designed, so you have all the tools you need on the road.”

Bruce looked at the protective suit, cut to allow his arms free movement, and took a shaky breath. “You didn’t have to do all of this.”

He meant that, Natasha could tell. He hadn’t expected that they would take any steps to protect him.

“We want to protect you, Doctor. We’re not doing this without you. We need you,” Natasha said, catching his eyes and holding them. “And we’ll need you to watch our backs too. You can do that better if you don’t always have to worry about you every second.”

Clint was grinning on the other side of the room, shrugging into his new vest, then pausing as he caught his arm in the armhole. He took a closer look, and started laughing.

“Would you believe me if I say I’ve muscled up since the Army?”

Natasha laughed and went to readjust Clint’s vest, while Steve took over getting Bruce into his gear. She pulled a few tabs to give him some more room, settling it against his shoulders before he zipped himself up.

“I had to do this myself a few times,” she confessed. “The costumers for the war bond show looked at my face and just assumed my size. The girls and I had to re-stitch half of our costumes so we wouldn’t get accused of indecency. I thought that wouldn’t happen now but…” She nodded at the most brightly-colored of her costumes. “That’s my ‘action figure’ costume, the one I wear if I’m doing public appearances. The first version… Saying it was painted on would have been too generous.”

Clint chuckled, because Natasha’s combat uniform, the one she’d worn in Canada, was still stylized, but definitely practical armor, not something to be marketed as a child’s toy (or an adult’s dream).

Bruce was getting used to the weight and movement of his vest. Steve made sure there wasn’t anything that was going to scratch or catch or irritate, because they didn’t know how long it was going to take to stem the tide of what was coming.

“All right?” Steve said finally, thumping Bruce on the shoulders to be certain nothing was going to move.

“Yeah,” Bruce said, breathing out slowly.

“I’ve only really been wearing armor for the past six-seven years,” Steve said suddenly. “Before then, I was rocking a pocket protector. It takes some getting used to, but we made sure this was custom-made for you.”

“I don’t know if I can picture you in a pocket protector.”

“You didn’t see him when he was spying on my house,” Tony broke in. “Dressed down as a dweeb accountant. By the way, Doc, that phone should be able to take just about anything. Up to and including Thor stepping on it in armor.”

“Which we tested,” Thor said, smiling. “You have acquitted yourself well as a warrior, friend Bruce. Now you have the armament of one as well.”

Bruce didn’t protest that this was something he hadn’t wanted. It had started out that way with him, but now… He was a lifetime away from a boy who had hunted in the woods, and his bow was no longer just a way to spare himself pain, but to protect the people in his care. And that circle had just widened to more than just Clint or Betty. Now there was a city somewhere below him who was waiting for help they couldn’t get from anyone else.

“I think I’m ready.”

“I know you are,” Thor said, and pointed a small square of metal at his armor. With a few mechanical whirrs, it opened, and he stepped inside, the armor folding around him, leaving his face exposed for now.

Tony thunked Mjölnir on the deck as he shrugged into a flexweave Stark vest, one Steve recognized from one of the pitch videos at SHIELD.

“I thought you were already bulletproof,” Clint said. “No, scratch that, I know you are.”

“I am, at least against regular stuff. But my clothes aren’t. And as fun as it would be to save the world in the buff, Cap won’t let me do it.”

Natasha flipped Tony the bird without a blush.

Steve held out his hand, four small irregular lumps of plastic rolling in his palm. “Earwigs. I want everyone communicating. Tony, the one with the gold stripe is for you-.”

“I know, I designed it,” Tony said flippantly, jamming the offered communication device into his right ear. “Had to make sure it could withstand some high amperage.”

“Check?” Natasha said.

“Check.”

“Check.”

“Check.”

“Check.”

“Check,” with metallic overtones from Thor’s synthesized voice through the mask.

“All right people, let’s go save D.C.” Maria Hill’s voice said suddenly.

“What?!” Bruce said, head coming up sharply. “I was sort of hoping Loki was joking…”


“No such luck. Looks like Killian had the Tesseract moved to-- Rogers you’re going to love this --the labs at the Triskellion.”


Rogers cursed in what sounded like four languages.


“Hating it too. Looks like he’s powering up and about to unleash hell on the capital. If you can capture Killian and Ross alive for me to skin personally, I’d count it a favor. Quinjet is ready in the hanger, let’s go, go, go!”


--

The white buildings near the National Mall stood out against the greenery below like tombstones, and Bruce suppressed a shudder as the Quinjet began its descent. All the readings clearly pointed here, to the labs below the Triskellion and soon. If Killian had just been working with Earth technology, he would have needed a massive power source to open up the Tesseract’s portal. But with Sif inadvertently opening up some of the other realms to him, he had made his bridge without causing the ripples that would have alerted anyone to his presence sooner. They were just going to make it, and probably not in time to stop him before he started.

“Anything yet?” Steve called out from the front. He was piloting because Tony and Thor were going to have to be deployed first, and Steve would need the mobility to get to the Triskillion and see if he could get to Killian. Everyone else would be stopping D.C. from getting destroyed. Bruce hung onto the grab loop and took in as much as he could at a glance. Even warned, he nearly missed it at first, but after a few seconds, no one could have missed it. A lance of blue light was beaming out of the middle of the Triskellion. Glowing ripples were expanding along the banks of the Potomac River across the bank from the building, and from them were emerging gleaming bodies, like a horde of metallic ants. Even from this distance, Bruce could see they weren’t nearly as tall as the Destroyer, and they glowed blue instead of the inferno that had raged inside the Asgardian construct, but there were dozens, and more coming out every second. Thank God SHIELD had gotten the evacuation order out in advance of the Avengers’ arrival – it didn’t guarantee a clear field of fire, but the DC police were getting people moving away as fast as they could. As for the agents themselves, Bruce had to hope they had a better sense of self-preservation than the idiots Ross has sent after him and Clint.

“Across the bank, and incoming!” Bruce called, and held on tight as Steve spun the Quinjet in a tight arc.

“Thor, Tony, try to bottle them up so we can land!” Natasha called, and Bruce flattened himself against the wall as Thor blasted out of the door, Mjölnir and Tony following a second later. Clint was there a right after, rifle in his hands, watching the action below with single-minded intensity.

There was a series of bright explosions, the booms echoing around the river and reverberating off the monuments as a dozen of the metallic things blew up. Thor pulled out of his dive and blasted higher as Tony came in after him, lightning smiting the ground and taking out another wave. For a moment, there was no movement on the ground. Then Thor jerked in the air, and Tony wavered in his grip on Mjölnir as they stared down. In the blasted riverbank, the pieces of metallic rubble were glowing with blue energy, making spiderwebs of power that reached out to the pieces next to them, drawing them closer, in alignment…

“Sorcerer’s Apprentice!” Tony shouted. “These Destroyer-bots aren’t going to stay down!”

“We need to disable them and stop their advance while we try to close this gate,” Natasha said. “Steve, head for that portal device, Banner, cover us from the top of the Triskellion. Clint!” He whipped his head around to stare at her. “You and I are going to have to plug that gap from the ground while Thor and Tony do it from the air.”

Clint took a second look at the horde and put the rifle down easily, unstrapping his vest. He cracked his neck and loosened his shoulders, focusing on the chaos below. If there was ever a need for the overwhelming force of Clint’s alter-ego, this was it. “Got it, Cap.”

“Drop Bruce off then get to that portal machine, Rogers,” Natasha said, and flipped her bracers into position. Not into the upright diamonds to shield her from projectiles, but with the diamonds pointed out over her fists, to act as daggers. She intended to rip these tin cans open from top to bottom.

“In five!” Steve said, and Natasha crouched, then sprung as the Quinjet neared the ground, a huge green roar and the thud of enormous feet behind her as they ran at the Destroyer-bots still struggling to pull themselves together.

--

The Hulk’s roar made Natasha’s bones shiver, but she couldn’t let that stop her. Her arms were aching and going numb as she ripped open one after the other, but she made herself move faster, block harder, keeping just ahead of the Hulk so he could keep the Destroyer-bots off her back. They had to press them back, keep the gap open long enough to force these things back into it, long enough for Steve to find the Earth-side controller that was keeping the gate open. And if they didn’t keep them hemmed in, then they were free to range wherever Ross and Killian had programmed them to go. Beyond the banks of the Potomac the rest of D.C. beckoned, and only the immediate area had been evacuated. There were hundreds of thousands of people in the crossfire if even one of these things passed the Avengers.

So not one of them could

Bruce was up on the top of the Triskellion, courtesy of Steve, raining down a careful selection of arrows to keep the worst of them off of Natasha and the Hulk’s back. None of them had thought to outfit his quiver with more of the expanding-foam crowd-control arrows, with was unfortunate because those were the most effective at keeping the Destoyer-bots contained. She heard him cursing as another pale blue blob bloomed in her peripheral vision, and knew before he said it that he was down to arrows that exploded or melted, which never seemed to keep them down for long.

“Rogers, where are we?” she demanded, winning another step forward as Thor landed by her side, going back-to-back to force another wave of ‘bots to give ground. His own arsenal was long depleted, his repulsor beams on low power by the dimmed glow in the chest of his armor. With a shout, he flipped something out of the right arm of his armor, a damned sword of all things, and roared like a berserker, chopping heads and limbs left and right.

--

Steve peered around the corner, seeing two slack-jawed agents standing in front of a door where blue light was shining from every crack. The Triskellion had been evacuated, but Steve had found evidence of Ross’ interference in more than one mind-melted former co-worker trying to kill him. He’d laid out six of them with shots from his Widower’s Bite as he’d worked his way down to this floor, and was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ross and Killian might have become so warped by working with an otherworldly power source that they were trying to take over D.C. with a robot army, but he couldn’t count on them being so stupid that they’d only leave a few guards to protect them.

He slid a taser grenade down the floor, timing it carefully. He rushed in on a count of five, just as the remaining guards were flopping on the floor into unconsciousness. The electricity had also done double duty to disengage the lock -this wasn’t a secure floor, only offices- and Steve slammed through, ducking and rolling, coming up with shocker disks in each hand.

Sitting in the middle of the floor was machine about the size of a small car, its heart pulsing with power and throwing out an eye-smiting beam of blue through the shattered window. Next to it was the sharp-faced Killian, between him and the door was Ross in a disheveled dress uniform, both of their eyes a solid crystalline blue.

Steve hurled one shocker at the General, making him drop his sidearm and spasm on the floor, then vaulted over the machine to tag Killian. The scientist moved with surprising speed and strength, grabbing at his arm and trying to twist it in to give Steve a dose of his own medicine. Steve dropped the shocker without a second thought and went down, bringing Killian with him. Shifting, he scissored his legs around Killian and squeezed long enough to make the man let go in order to try to fight to breathe. Steve disengaged fast and punched down into Killian’s shoulder, making the man arch as his Widower’s Bite dug in and delivered its payload. In his uncontrolled flailing, Killian’s knee hit the loose shocker on the floor, and a rush of electricity blasted them both.

Steve’s vest was built to keep his weapons from being used against him, but he smelled scorched insulation, felt an instant of muscle-locking agony, then felt a deep, dangerous pain inside himself. Killian collapsed to the floor, mouth sagging open, lights out, and it was all Steve could do to keep from joining him. On the floor a few feet away a tactical radio squawked. Steve listened through surges of pain, then cursed.

--

Through her earpiece, Natasha heard a series of grunts, a sizzling sound that sent a squeal of feedback through her earpiece, a few thuds, and finally Steve’s voice, breathless, saying, “I’ve got myself barricaded in the control room for now, but Killian and Ross have more human back-up on the way. I’ve got both of them unconscious and cuffed, but this machine is still going strong. I’ve got maybe two minutes, max, before I’m going to have to move position.”

There was another click on the line, one that heralded Steve switching to a private channel. “Cap, Killian didn’t go down easy, and I got sideswiped with my own shocker. My vest didn’t short-circuit all of it. I think it damaged my pacemaker.”

Natasha’s heart skipped a beat even as she pinned another ‘bot down and ripped off its head with one of her shields. Next to her, Thor was roaring and slashing with his sword, the head of a Destroyer-bot in his other hand as a makeshift shield. She had gotten used to seeing Steve as unflappable and invincible, even with watching him take all of his drugs and injections necessary to keep his unruly body on an even keel. “You can’t move position,” she said flatly.

“Oh, I can move. But not far, not fast, and if I take the adrenaline dose I have as back-up, I doubt the AED I have built into my vest is going to keep me from clocking out unless someone gets to me.”

Steve’s voice was so matter-of-fact, Natasha understood immediately. Tony’s plan was a good one, but they didn’t have time to make all the conditions perfect. Barton was going to hate this when he woke up.

“Time for Plan B.” The gap was as narrow as it was going to get, and however many ‘bots were on this side, they were just going to have to deal with. “Bruce, get to Rogers! Tony get to the gap, we’re going to have to plug it ourselves! Thor, we have to keep the perimeter contained, and I don’t care about monument damage right now. Hulk!”

The enormous green rage monster turned, spitting out the head of one Destructor-bot as he crushed another in his huge green fist. Natasha pointed to the shining blue gap bridging their world to where Killian’s machine was pouring out a stream of death from Asgard. “Smash!”

The Hulk actually smirked and leapt so high and so far that he cleared the crowd of ‘bots in a single bound, landing with an earth-shaking thud near the gap as Tony thundered in. Both of them yelling, they smashed the gap itself, disrupting the energy flow between worlds, Tony using Mjölnir, Hulk just using his fists to smash at power so thick it manifested in physical form. Between them, they could act as a physical block against the power, as long as Steve could shut down the Earth-side AIM device. Natasha dug deep for her fourth or fifth wind as Thor punched with his ‘bot head and lashed out with his sword all around her, between them keeping the ‘bots hemmed in. For a moment, everything seemed to be working, the gap narrowing even more until it was just a bright blue line of light.

“Rogers, Banner, now, now, now!” she shouted. Over the comms, there was a curse from Rogers, and Natasha’s heart sank.

--

Steve hadn’t felt this bad in five years, sweating, hands shaking, skin an unhealthy pallor, a weakness in his core he hadn’t experience since getting his health as right as he could. It was times like this that reminded him to be humble, that he was living on borrowed time every second.

“Hit breakers two, three, seven, and twelve!” Bruce said over the comm, his voice sounding a little breathless as he was making his way down to Steve. He’d been walking Steve through disabling the device without blowing up the Eastern Seaboard for the past two minutes, but Steve’s vision kept blurring and there was someone pounding at the door he’d wedged shut. There was a nice little explosive surprise for when they finally forced it open, but at this point Steve wasn’t sure his damaged ticker was going to manage another shock. At least it would destroy this thing, if Steve failed.

“Bruce,” Steve said, and had to pause to take another breath. “Get here soon!”

---

“Can’t hold it!” Tony shouted, and suddenly a gleam of white metal flew back past Natasha to points unknown.

She shoved down another two ‘bots, and said reluctantly, “Was that Mjölnir?”

Tony didn’t answer, his attention caught up with trying to keep the gap shut with the Hulk’s help. The Hulk was roaring in pain, and Tony’s face was rigid with agony, but he was still holding on. He was, as Thor had said, different. And that made him strong enough to bear the load.

The ‘bots were slowing, some of them turning to look back at the portal, and Natasha heard the welcome lowering whine of the Earth-side device powering down. But the light from Asgard was still shining far too bright.

“The pressure is holding it open!” Thor shouted. “We need to get to the other side!”

“No one is going through that in one piece!” Tony gasped out. Then she saw him suddenly look surprised, and redoubled his efforts. “I can see through! Sif is there!”

“What?!” Thor shouted.

“She’s there! In chains, with a spear, making mince of everything from that side. Close it, guys, we need a heavy strike!”

The Hulk was more than happy to oblige, but Natasha could see that even with the Hulk’s boundless strength, they were going to need a boost. They could hold it, but they couldn’t finish it.

---

Steve slumped over the machine gratefully as it powered down, and managed to keep from jumping out of his skin as Banner, and Mjölnir, arrived through the window at the same time. Banner landed gracefully at the end of a grappling-line arrow. Mjölnir thudded through the broken window, then the door door, taking the explosion and whoever had been near it down the hallway. Bruce blinked at that as Steve raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“…we need a heavy strike!” Natasha’s voice thundered over the comm, and Bruce ran towards the smoke and fire down the corridor. Steve cursed in six different languages and staggered to the door, only to see Bruce running back, smudged from the smoke and shedding a few robot parts, but clutching Mjölnir’s short handle.

“I’ve got it! Incoming!” Bruce went straight to the blown-out wall, cocked his arm back, sighted on the brilliant spot of light on the bank of the Potomac, and threw the Asgardian artifact into the breech.

---

Thor shouted in exultation, Tony in surprise, and the Hulk in anger as Mjölnir slammed into the thick light. There was a soundless explosion that sent Natasha’s legs out from underneath her and blacked out the world around her. For long moments afterward she didn’t quite feel ready to think, or open her eyes, or stand up. As there were no screams, cries for help, or anyone trying to kill her, she stayed lying down until Thor, sword reincorporated into his armor, limping slightly, came into her slitted field of vision. She found enough strength to raise her hand and grasp his outstretched one, levering her into a standing position. All around the banks of the Potomac were the collapsed and crushed bodies of the ‘bots, along with scorched grass and churned-up earth. Above, in the Triskellion, a shattered section of window about halfway up had two waving figures in it, one supporting the other.

“We’re good here. Natasha, you ok?” she heard Bruce say.

Tony came up behind Thor, Mjölnir in a loose grip in one hand, and the Hulk trailing along behind him, snorting as he looked left and right for enemies. Natasha turned to look at him, and smiled. “We won.”

The Hulk snorted again, and then sat down right in the dirt, body starting to shrink into one very woozy Clint Barton. He blinked at everyone and formed a weak thumbs-up before leaning back and quietly passing out.

“Yeah, we did,” Tony said, as Thor opened his faceplate with a smile.

---

“I can’t believe he did this,” Natasha muttered.

“Yes, you can.” Steve crossed his arms, and took in the view of the mansion on a hill with appreciation. “You would probably know better than anyone.” Two months later and you couldn’t have told that he had been on borrowed time during the Battle of the Potomac. Amazing what modern medicine could do. Visiting Steve in the medical wing of a Maryland SHIELD facility she’d been able to appreciate how hard he’d been holding on during that fight; everyone had, really. If there had been any lingering ill-will from Steve’s initial deception, they’d been gone by the time he was out of danger.

Natasha was silent for a moment, just out of principle, then unbent enough to nod. “Yeah, Howard did things like this.”

“This” was Tony’s newest home, a mansion outside of New York City, more than spacious enough for everyone to have their own apartment, along with a generous (if not embarrassing) amount of room for training areas, labs, common rooms, storage, and vehicles.

“I’m standing right here,” Tony pointed out.

“It’s impressive,” Bruce said, and looked as if he meant it. Despite the grandiose size, it was reasonably tasteful, and thankfully didn’t include the new Avengers logo on any of the outbuildings.

“Damn right. The labs are a handy jog from your quarters, Banner, so you can science away at any hour. I was going to put this whole complex plumb in the middle of the New York office, but then had some second thoughts. If someone decides to get cute and want some revenge, I’d rather not put Manhattan in the crossfire. Besides, the commute is nothing between Mjölnir, Iron Man, and the Quinjet.”

“Or your entire car collection,” Clint said, jerking his thumb back at the three fancy sports cars Tony had brought to the half-repaired Triskellion so they could drive up here.

“Oh sweet summer child, those are just the everyday workhorses,” Tony said, shaking his head in mock-despair.

“What did you guys hear back from Asgard?” Natasha asked, before Tony could start waxing eloquent on his cars. She’d seen the list of vehicles somewhere in his file, and it was exhausting to read.

“Ah.” Thor’s expression softened from pride and glee at the new facility to something more meditative. “My brother was able to find where Killian and Ross had chosen to build their lesser children of the Destroyer, but with the Tesseract already connecting our worlds, it had created a dangerous aura as they fed off of its energy before plunging through to our world.” He looked away for a moment, jaw working, expression flickering over several emotions. “He offered Sif her spear back if she would fight to correct the damage she had caused. As Tony saw through the gate, she fought with everything she had. When Mjölnir hit the breech, it cut off the energy to the creatures. She was able to destroy them, at a cost. She was wounded, but not unto death. Even now, she recovers, if slowly. My brother greatly desires to speak with all of us again. I believe… given how I have managed to find a place on Midgard, he has been thinking we might have room for another.”

Natasha considered that, surprised, and looked over at the others.

“Being screwed over by people seems to be sort of a job requirement for this crew,” Clint pointed out. “Depends if she still hates your guts, Tony. Or ours.”

“Her hate is against those who betrayed her.”

“I’m open to the idea,” Bruce said. “But a lot depends on her. And if Director Hill minds another alien invasion. No offense, Thor.”

“None taken. We have time to consider and convince who and what we must, both here and on Asgard,” Thor said.

“Speaking of Asgard, my mentor, Fury, he had a thought everyone might like: send Killian and Ross to Asgard for their sentences. Keep them away from any allies left on Earth,” Steve said, arching an eyebrow.

“Perhaps. Or maybe my brother knows of a place even less hospitable. Hela has certain places in her realm for oathbreakers.”

“I’m sure the Director would approve of something to get those two out of the possibility of any latent Earth allies trying to get them free,” Steve said.

“Then it’s really official? Those CNN reports weren’t just blowing smoke?” Bruce asked.

“The Army finished the last of their paperwork on Ross this morning. In addition to solitary at a super-max prison until the end of time, he’s dishonorably discharged,” Steve said with a small smile on his lips. “If that super-max happens to be out of this world, I doubt anyone’s going to object.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Clint said, grinning.

“Killian got the same sentence. The U.S. government takes a dim view of treason, particularly not when they were abusing black-ops resources to boot. SHIELD’s going to be under heavy review while we track down exactly who Killian put under his mind-whammy.”

“Good,” Natasha said firmly. A little more oversight probably wouldn’t have prevented those two from acting on their ambitions, but it sure as hell would have slowed them down. Even so, she couldn’t blame SHIELD for not knowing about the personal beefs Ross and Killian had had towards Bruce and Tony, as they’d taken pains to conceal them. There were some things you couldn’t calculate for. She looked over at Tony and Thor as something else occurred to her. “I’m more worried about them blaming some alien artifact for their behavior. Overrunning D.C. with robots was dramatic, even for what I know of them.”

“They didn’t need Tesseract influence to develop sonic mind-control,” Tony said, crossing his arms. “Besides, if anyone is going to be able to detoxify their minds from anything the Tesseract suggested, it sure as Hel isn’t going to be anyone from Earth.”

“Let them try their games in Hela’s realm. She will humble them,” Thor said a smirk. “And once we are certain they are free from the Tesseract’s shadow, then perhaps they can return here for a most uncomfortable duration.”

“I’m all for it. And I’m pretty sure we’re having a party to celebrate, even if the only thing we have is music and whatever Tony has in the fridge,” Steve said.

Natasha favored Steve with a withering look. “If you think a Stark can’t whip up a blow-out extravaganza on no notice, then you’re a terrible spy.”

Tony was looking extravagantly gleeful, and everyone else started laughing. “Challenge accepted, Spy McGee.”

Thor laughed as he swept his arm back towards the cars. “Then let us ride, my friends. We have much to show you whilst Tony plans our revels.”

Natasha ended up with Steve in a fancy Mustang with exactly too much testosterone in its styling, but Steve seemed to like driving it. Ahead of them, the road curved and meandered to take full advantage of the scenery (and make tactical approach by ground entirely inadvisable). She approved whole-heartedly.

Natasha sat up straighter as the true scale of the Avengers’ complex became evident; this was more along the lines of a small village! All three cars pulled up at the entrance to the largest building, the front seemingly made from little more than glass and wire and light. Thor vaulted out of his car without the need to open the door, waving his hands and bowing to the others like he was welcoming them to Asgard. Tony was finishing up typing something on his phone, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

Clint bounded out of his car, Bruce following at a more sedate pace, and paused. He turned and waved Natasha and Steve up as Tony said something into thin air. The door opened as a crisp English accent said, “Welcome home, sir. The party will be starting shortly.” Steve chuckled slightly, and Bruce looked at him sideways.

“If that’s Stark’s home AI, I think I’m going to get locked into a few rooms.”

“I’ll bust you out of them,” Clint said breezily, slinging his arm around Steve and Natasha’s shoulders, Bruce leading the way as they walked up to join Tony and Thor.

“Welcome home, everyone,” Tony said with a smile. Thor grinned at everyone as they entered their new home together.

---

Chapter 4
Chapter 3
Chapter 2
Chapter 1
Master Post

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