DISCLAIMER: Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man, and The Avengers are the properties of Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Studios, and Marvel Studios. This work was created purely for enjoyment. No money was made, and no infringement was intended.

RATING: M (for language, violence, depictions of torture)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hi, everyone! This story is AU, considering it was written before Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's dark and violent, and it hopefully portrays a realistic look at the harsh parts of heroism and the importance of teamwork and friendship in overcoming trauma. There's a healthy dose of Tony/Pepper, Steve/Peggy, and a dash of Clint/Natasha. Please enjoy!



It was a beautiful evening in New York City. The warmth of summer was slowly disappearing, the streets cool and pleasant and filled with sound and smells. The work day had just ended, so the sidewalks were flooded with rushing people. The city night life was just kicking into high gear, with the first hints of twilight brushing the blue sky, and, as the shadows began to descend, lights twinkled to life, filling the buildings with colors that washed the busy, bustling streets with rainbows of neon. Times Square was loud, teeming with business people and denizens and tourists. Cars honked, hardly audible over the hum of conversation and noise from the massive screens above. Most people paid no heed to the towering surfaces as they buzzed with commercials and news, save for the visitors who had never seen such a display.

They were, perhaps, the first to notice when the monstrous screens all simultaneously abandoned their blaring streams of talking and ads and flashy images. All at once, everything was dark as the lights of Time Square flickered off for an interminable, shocking moment. When the video resumed, it was horrific.

"Oh my god," a traffic cop murmured as he, and thousands of others, stopped in their tracks and watched, pale-faced and wide-eyed, at the scene before them.

It was a picture from hell, some sort of dark, dirty warehouse. Darkness covered much of the picture, save for the man that hung, nearly naked, from the ceiling. He was tall, entirely too muscular for a normal sort of human, and beaten to within an inch of his life. Horrendous wounds covered him from head to toe, his skin more blood than flesh. The camera jerked wildly for a moment before zooming in on the prisoner, lingering almost sadistically on the worst of the injuries. A gaping hole in his right thigh. A long, jagged laceration across his belly that was slick and dripping. Innumerable bloody lines and deep, purple splotches along his chest. More damage done to his breast and shoulders. His head hung limply against his chest, and there was a cruel laugh as someone kicked his back. Suspended as he was by metal cuffs about his wrists, he swung lifelessly, and blood ran in a torrent down bare toes to the dirt ground.

A few more blows followed in quick succession, and there was chuckling and harsh taunts spoken in a language most of the unwilling audience didn't understand. People were screaming on the streets, some covering their eyes or the eyes of their children, others watching in morbid, miserable fascination as this poor man was brutalized even further. The moment felt to last forever before the torturers tired of their sport. There was a snap and then a rattle, and the chains slid free from whatever secured them above. The beaten form crumpled to the ground, utterly unmoving. His face was hidden in shadow.

Then another man came, dressed simply but expensively, with dark hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and gleeful, unhinged eyes. He smiled, slowly, obviously pleased. The people in the streets gasped as he spoke. "Behold, Americans. Behold your beloved Avenger!"

Two other men grabbed the fallen form and hauled it upward, less than gently. The collective cry of fury and horror and grief heightened the already mounting sense of panic in Times Square, people screaming and fleeing. A gloved hand wove its way through the prisoner's thick, dirty hair and yanked his head upward. The man's face was mottled with bruises and blood, his hair matted from blows to the head that had wept crimson. Long lashes fluttered, revealing hints of blue, but he only groaned as a knee was dug into his back and his arms wrenched painfully behind him. A filthy blood-soaked rag gagged him tightly. The camera zoomed in then, and the face was unmistakable.

The well-dressed man laughed, as though he could hear the horror and dismay claiming the citizens caught before his horrific display. "Your symbol of American might. Your pathetic, arrogant shield against your enemies. Your soldier. Your hero. Untouchable? I think not." With that, the man turned and decked his captive, sending the barely conscious man reeling. The men restraining him hauled him back upward. "Indestructible? Hardly." Another haughty laugh and a vicious kick to his captive's exposed abdomen that was met with a ragged cry and a bloody cough. "A weakling turned into something pure and powerful. But a weakling still, underneath." A vicious punch to the chest. The next came with a knife, a jagged blade that he spent a moment showing to the camera before ramming in between his prisoner's ribs. The man howled and tears spilled from his eyes when the blade was yanked free.

By now the police were attempting to evacuate Times Square, but it was chaos. "Watch, America," ordered the man. Too many of the crowd, and the cops, were. Transfixed. Horrified. "Watch your legend bleed. Hear him scream." The gag was pulled from his mouth as a hand twisted in his hair and yanked back his head. The bloody blade hovered over his eyes. Then it descended again, this time into the prisoner's flank. His wail was deep and agonizing. There were screams to stop, to help him, to save him. But the horror on the screen only continued, unabated. Unhindered.

"Let this be a warning," hissed the demon who loomed over his prey. "Let this be a warning to the United States. To the Avengers. To the world. You will not stop us. You will not defeat us. You will fall." The knife flashed red. "And then, you will bow before us and beg for your lives." The men pulled their prisoner upright again. The hand in his hair yanked his head back, exposing his gasping throat. The camera moved closer, close enough to see the blood and tears glisten. "Follow the example of your dear captain. Watch, Americans, and do what you are told. Now beg." A thumb swept across trembling lips, and the blade came to rest at his vulnerable throat. "Beg!"

"No," came the whispered response.

The man reacted with an enraged howl and the knife swiped. But there was a horrific roar. The man fell, a black arrow protruding from his eye socket. Chaos followed. A show of bright lights and a blur of gold and red. A black shadow descended on the men holding the prisoner. Then the camera nauseatingly tipped to the ground, sending the picture sideways. The rest was screams, gun fire, and blurred images of battle. Eventually there was another earth-shattering cry, deep and inhuman and monstrous, and then the picture mercifully switched to black.