Two men stumbled out of the darkness, hands tied behind their backs, and were pushed down on their knees next to Bruce. Glazed eyes didn't focus, but the light of the arc reactor shone blue amid the firelight. Tony's head dropped down on his bare chest and only Steve's shoulder kept him from slumping over.
"No. We had an agreement," Clint protested. He could see the worry in Steve's eyes, the caked blood on Tony's temple. Steve contained meant they'd threatened Tony, Mab's go-to way to get what she wanted. If Steve had a weakness, it was his overdeveloped need to protect his team … and Tony was much more than a team member.
"Of course we do. Your family is safe from our control." This time she did smile, and Clint's blood ran cold. "But they're not related to you by blood, my dear boy. Words matter. Now, which of these two fine specimens shall we begin with?"
She stopped behind them, ever aware of her framing as if she was always thinking of photo opportunities. Running a hand through Tony's hair, she yanked his head up; dark brown eyes were dilated, staring ahead. Drugged then; Clint didn't think either Tony or Steve would give one of Mab's people permission but he didn't know what had happened before they were brought here to this place. They were all arranged in a clearing near the underground barrow of an ancient Irish queen who had sacrificed her life to shut the passage between worlds centuries ago.
"Stop it." Steve told her; that was his Captain America voice, the one he used when talking to villains, the one people jumped to obey. "Leave him alone."
"Oh my dear," she laughed. "I've just started." Fingers stroked down Tony's neck and he didn't flinch as nails scraped along his skin and circled the blowing blue circle in his chest. "Such a fragile thing, the human body. Truly, but for this technology, he would be dead." She tightened her hold as if to rip it out of Tony's chest.
"You do that and the deal's off," Clint growled, pulling at his restraints as Steve struggled with his own bonds.
"And I'll have your family to do with as I will." She was so calm, red nails tapping on the metal. "The answer is simple. Do as I ask and you'll survive this."
"What do you want?" Steve asked, but Clint already knew. He'd been expecting this twist; Mab was too much of a sadist to do the deed herself. No, she'd want to watch the most suffering possible on all sides. She might have promised to leave them alone after this was over, but she'd do her damnedest to make sure there were lasting effects that would tear them apart.
"Why, for you to be my agent, of course. Clint has a preference for men, and, well, the connection of flesh to flesh carries the power more effectively." A reptilian smile split her face as she revealed her first card.
"No, no, no," Steve protested, turning his pleading eyes toward Clint for support. "I won't do that."
"It's okay, Steve." Bruce spoke from his place by Mab's seat. "I'd rather it be you than the bitch over there."
"Clint?" Steve's eyes flitted between the two.
"State it explicitly," Clint warned. "Exactly what you want in return. She'll uphold her end of the bargain but only to the letter of her word."
"But you're … I don't want to …" Steve stumbled over his meaning, but Clint understood.
"Not like we haven't talked about it, right?" Clint joked, trying to convey his acceptance to Steve. "Only problem's going to be Tony; he'll be jealous he didn't get his shot at my ass."
" 's right," Tony slurred, trying to focus. "Too … can't get it up anyhow. Promise later … get my chance to do … more than watch."
"Tony, are you okay?" Steve bent his head, checking Tony's eyes.
"If this bitch'd get her hands off me …" Tony swayed, almost falling over. "Not as good a trip as that shit I got back in the 70s but, damn …"
"Here's the deal," Steve said, looking Mab square in the eye. "Tony, me, Bruce, Natasha, Becca, and Clint. We walk out of here, alive and unharmed in any way, physical, mental, spiritual. You and any minion/servant, human or not, never bother us again either by direct or indirect action."
"And if you attack me? Am I to simply stand by and allow such aggression? If attacked, I will retaliate." She snarled, her upper lip curling as she sank her nails into Tony's neck drawing little lines of blood. "You ask too much. I will find another."
"One who'll bring as much humiliation? No, you want me because I'm his and Bruce's friend. That makes the spell more powerful, right? The connection between us?" Steve was on firmer ground now, arguing with the villain. He was good at it, facing them down and cutting through their bullshit. "Take it or leave it."
"Fine," she snapped, pulling away from Tony, leaving Steve to use his body to help Tony down to the packed earth of the ground beneath them. "I will not harm those you named, mentally, spiritually, or physically." She stalked over to Clint and hissed at him, "You and your deals. We'll see just who is best at this game, little hawk. Unharmed you may be when this is over, but pain I can give you now."
Her nails wove a pattern across Clint's back, and the lines of the symbols blazed with icy fire that sank down to his muscles and into his bones. Agonizing, the cold burned; Clint bit his lip until blood ran to keep his groans inside, not willing to give her the satisfaction. As she wrote on his skin, she chanted in a language filled with harsh consonants and short vowels, long words that mirrored the sworls and strokes she was making. The musicians picked up the beat and it became a song, bitter and stinging like the North wind bringing a storm. The barometric pressure dropped and Clint felt the change in his head, ears swelling shut, sinus passages pounding, eyes watering. He'd been tortured, had survived much worse, but this felt like she was sinking into his chest and pushing her way to his very heart, filling up his ribcage with snow and sleet.
"Clint." In the middle of the building maelstrom, he heard Bruce's voice and forced his eyes open. Blue grey met deep brown, a lifeline to a place of calm; leaving his body behind, he slipped across the bridge of their gazes and settled into the warm arms waiting for him, wrapping him in love. "I've got you," Bruce murmured. "We're here."
Through Bruce's field of vision, he could see Steve levered up by two of Mab's men and put in position. They freed his hands and Steve hesitated, quick calculation of the odds of success flitting across his face, but two others had taken up places by Tony and Steve was too far away.
"Damn you," Steve said to Mab. "People like you always get their comeuppance. Always."
Clint laughed, and he could feel the motion of his body as he did, could see the sound fall from his mouth. "See? You can teach an old dog new tricks," he said or mumbled between pants of breath as he fought through the waves of pain. Both in his own head and with Bruce, Clint could see the energy rising off his skin, could feel the frigid power cracking him open from the inside out.
"Seriously? You're going to joke now?" Steve's lopsided grin was aimed Clint's way. "We're about to be the main attraction and piss the Hulk off while letting a whole race of crazy aliens who want to use humans as meat suits come through that doorway."
"Just setting the mood," Clint said. "Come on Cap. Let's do this. Already slicked up and ready for you. Bruce helped. This is one of those 'you can do anything you want without repercussion' situations, like a time loop or something. "
"Fuck." That got a full-throated laugh from Steve. "And here I thought I would have trouble being … prepared … and you go and bring up that memory."
"It's a damn good one." Clint dragged in a deep breath as Mab's hands left him as she came around to his head. Placing her hands on either side of his face, she tilted him up to look at her. "We done here?" Clint asked her. "Cause I'm pretty much ready to get on with it."
"You think sharing with your lover is enough to protect you? How exactly do you think the gate opens, darling?" Her palms heated and Clint could swear he could smell the searing of skin from where part of him waited behind Bruce's eyes. "You may mount him now," she directed Steve.
"Um, yeah, give me a minute here." Steve stroked himself, not having much luck. "Not used to performing for an audience if you know what I mean. You have lube and a condom, right?"
The pain stopped as she took her hands away. "Bronnagsh!" she called. "Find what our good captain needs and bring it. Hurry. Time is ticking away." A slim man with chocolate colored skin darted into the shadows, disappearing quickly down the path. "The drugs we gave you should make you able to perform," she said, clearly angry.
"I metabolize drugs very quickly," Steve explained with a bashful shrug. "Now, if you hadn't drugged up Tony so much, he could help."
"Do I have to do everything?" She stormed away and yanked Tony up by his chin until his feet were dangling above the ground, her arm stretched above her head. With a touch to the center of his forehead, Tony sputtered and jerked out of her grasp, falling back to the ground with a thud.
"What the fuck?!" He pushed himself upright and glared at Mab. "Jesus Christ, you are a piece of work, aren't you?" Then he glanced behind her and took in the tableau. "Holy shit, a naked ritual orgy? And you started without me? Boys, I am so annoyed. Has anyone called pole position?" He looked over to Natasha, the only one of them clothed, standing guard over Becca's carrier. "Okay, girls are not allowed, got it. I can handle that."
"Tony." Steve's admonition was tinged with fondness. "I could use a little help here. Think we can skip the commentary until we're finished?"
"Got it. One Steve sandwich coming up. Hands?" He wiggled his restrained wrists; at Mab's nod, one of the men cut him free. Rubbing his wrists, Tony walked over and patted Clint on the ass before he slipped behind Steve and wrapped an arm around his waist. "If this finds its way to youtube, man, we're going to explode the internet." His fingers curled around Steve's half-hard cock. "So what's the objective? And why does Katniss have math problems written on his back?"
"The simple version?" Mab was back, her hands around Clint's face again. "Biometric energy created during intercourse mingled with gamma and stellar radiation unlocks the door between our dimensions."
"Ah. Got it. I get Steve up, he fucks Clint, and you let your friends join the party. Gonna need some supplies for this to work. Do you people dry hump? A little lubrication would make this easier." As Tony spoke, the man Mab sent came running back up, hands filled with a couple boxes of condoms and tubes.
"Here," she tossed them onto Clint's back as if he was nothing more than a table. "We have seven minutes and 23 seconds before the window opens. I'm assuming you can last that long?"
The pain was low grade at first, like a bad wind burn, a familiar feeling from all the times Clint had been on a perch in the freezing cold. Only Bruce's mental warmth kept him from shivering as Steve grabbed one of his hips and lifted him up. Slick fingers slipped inside, one then two and, even with Bruce's view partially blocked by Mab, Clint could see Tony working on Steve's cock as Steve opened him up, rolling down a condom. Then Steve was pressing in and Mab increased the flow of energy into Clint; for the two breaths it took for Steve to slide fully in, ice crackled through Clint's body, writhing with the markings on his back. The cold filled his chest cavity just as Steve filled him but Mab didn't stop, the pressure growing tighter and tighter until there was no place left for Clint to go.
But the magic, or whatever it was, also opened up the thread between Clint and Bruce; reaching back, Clint latched onto the bright aura of Steve, golden and strong, and the smaller tendril of glowing blue, and pulled them with him as he was blasted out of his own body by Mab's power.
"What the …?" Tony tumbled naked onto the king sized bed. "Bruce? Um, where are we?"
"Far as I can tell, it's a mental dimension, a projection of brain waves created to provide a safe haven for the mind. I think the gamma radiation enhanced …" Bruce began but Clint lifted his head from where it rested on Bruce's shoulder and interrupted.
"Short answer. We're in Bruce's brain; Mab's magic, the nannites, enhancements, and drugs she's given us makes it possible. Mab shoved me out of my body so she can use me as a conduit; I expected it so I dragged you with me," Clint explained. "Thing is, she promised her people would leave us alone after the door was opened … but there's more than just her kind on the other side and she made no such promises about them. Monsters out of mythology. And if they happen to take us out in their haste to get here? Not her fault."
"So we call this off." Steve shifted, uncomfortable, still highly aroused, a slight sheen of sweat on his chest. "We can't let things like that loose on this world."
"We break the deal, we're far game. She'll kill us all and take Becca before we can do anything about it." Clint dragged a hand down Steve's arm, catching his wrist and tugging him across the space. "We still have options."
"You have a plan, you little shit," Tony protested. "You going to enlighten us?"
"You'll have to trust me." Clint winked at him and reached for Tony's hand as well. "First, we go through with what we promised."
"Wait." Tony pulled back. "If we're in here, what are our bodies doing? Are we just standing there?"
"Close your eyes, Tony," Bruce said, shifting away as Clint leaned up to capture Steve's face. "You'll know. What happens to the body affects the brain and visa versa."
Clint hadn't planned for this specific contingency; he'd expected Mab to pull a switch at the last minute, had hoped the energy and the drugs would allow him to make the connection with Bruce so he would be safe. Having Steve and Tony as part of this? Clint was selfish enough to be glad even though it put them in harm's way. Tugging Steve down, Clint kissed him as the spell Mab was weaving filtered into this haven; a relentless need to be filled, to take Steve's hard length inside of him, pushed him even as he knew, logically, that it was already happening. Not one to be left out, Tony took the opportunity to arrange them all more comfortably; he coaxed Bruce until he was sitting upright, back against the soft fabric headboard, Clint laying across Bruce's chest, legs spread over Bruce's. As Bruce slid his legs open, Steve settled between them, lifting Clint's hips so his hard cock could press past the tight muscle and into Clint. A little jostling and Steve found his purchase to begin to thrust his hips up. Bruce held Clint tight, his nose buried in the curve of Clint's neck, each movement of Steve's rocking Clint's ass over Bruce's cock.
Clint lost the thread of what was real and what wasn't when Tony managed to get close enough and kissed first Clint and then Bruce, the low vibrations of Bruce's moans thrumming through Clint. Harsh exhales of breath came from Steve as Tony's hand slipped around his ass. All the while, the power built around them; Clint felt like he'd touched a live wire without being grounded, freezing electricity using his body as a pathway. Desperate for relief, he turned his head away from Tony and Bruce, gasping for air, throwing his arm out to grab onto something, to stop him from slipping away into that current.
A big hand covered his, cradling Clint's in his palm. Dark brown eyes, tentative and worried, stared at him. "Cupid stay here," the Hulk said, sitting down on the edge of the big bed, holding onto Clint's hand.
"Hey, Big Green!" Tony called. "Perfect timing. I'm going to borrow Bruce here for a bit. Can you hold onto Clint?"
He looked askance at Clint first. Nodding, Clint reeled in the now human sized green guy and they all reconfigured, the Hulk taking Bruce's place against the headboard, cuddling Clint close on his left side as Bruce settled on his right. Surreal, Clint had a moment to register, then he was caught up again with Steve's hard thrusts, Bruce rocking beside him, too many mouths to kiss and too much skin for hands to caress. Still spinning, but this time in control of the descent, Clint knew the moment the spell took hold; he felt the click inside of him, his ribcage filling as another universe poured through him. Steve's thrusts grew increasingly ragged; Bruce's hand circled Clint's aching cock and Clint reached blindly for his.
"Ready?" he gasped. "Everyone hold on."
Holding out until he heard the groans from everyone else first, Clint bit his lip, hoped to hell this was going to work, and let himself come.
Bruce blinked his eyes open, unaware he'd closed them. His chest was still heaving, white drops splattered across his legs; he'd come without even touching himself, his hands tied behind him. Veins of green slithered across his body, the Hulk stepping forward, sharing his consciousness. From the corner of his eye, he saw Natasha, fists clenched, muscles ready to spring into action, hunkered down over Becca's carrier, protecting the baby with her own body. At the altar, Mab shouted, her arms held high, what could only be described as dark lightning dancing around her, sparking over Clint's body, gathering into a lance that speared the door to the barrow where the darkness split open, stars visible through the opening. Steve slumped over, eyes squeezed shut; Tony was on the ground, only his legs visible from where Bruce knelt.
"Let the way be open! Come forth, those who will, and rule this land once more!" Mab was in complete evil mistress mode, long black hair filled with static and circling her head like a halo.
"About that." Clint eased up on his elbows, winching at the rough stone, his bonds broken. "Before you go full-on bitch crazy, there's someone who wants to talk to you."
"There is nothing you can do, foolish mortal. Listen, even now you can hear the Bean Sidhe's wail coming for you. Or perhaps the Dearg Due or Balor will take you first. I have no control over them; they are not my people." She smiled, the great pleasure she would take in watching them die evident. "There are so many who will continue my work; I need only sit back and reap the benefits. All your dealings are for naught, little hawk. You have given me this world for my own. Nothing or no one can stop me."
"Actually, that's not a banshee. Pretty damn sure those are hounds. And they're coming for you." As Clint levered himself off the altar, the symbols Mab had written on his back began to change, looping around his waist and up his body, sliding down his arms, morphing into bands across his biceps and long chains of scrollwork across his chest. His whole demeanor changed; he grew taller, hair fading into feathers, eyes going dark and stormy.
"No." Mab stumbled back one step, then two. "No. You can't be here. Damn you! You can't stop me. Titania said she would be glad to get rid of me. She will not look kindly on you intervening."
"Hello to you too, wife of mine," Herne the Hunter said. He crossed the distance and caught her wrist. "Of course the Queen was more than happy to allow me to follow you; she harbors hope that we can rekindle our relationship."
"You mean she wants you to keep me under control. What did she promise that would make you stomach the thought of touching me again." Mab was spitting mad, her power loose and wild, flashing around the clearing. Bruce could see the portal was still open, lines of energy blocking the way for the movement he could see beyond.
"Is it too much to think that I missed you? There were good times, at least in bed. I can remember that." Herne/Clint smiled, stroking his thumb on the tender skin of the underside of her wrist.
"Truly?" She grew smaller, deflating a bit. "I remember a string of lovers that you flaunted at court."
"Doesn't mean I didn't love you. You know my nature." With a tilt of his head, he smiled at her. "Let's be honest with each other and begin again."
"And that bitch is going to let you parade me around under her nose?" Mab laughed, a harsh sound to Bruce's ears.
"No. You tried to kill her. Twice. And overthrow her at least four times. She's never going to let you return. But she will let us make a place for ourselves here." Herne/Clint stepped a little closer, dropping his voice. "It's a good offer, Mab. Take it."
"All I have to do is submit to you, correct? With her rules and your iron fist, you'll keep me under your thumb?" The energy began to spark again, a red glow circling her clenched fists. "You'll be King of this world and what will I be? Your wife? Hardly a fair trade. No. I will take what is mine and rule as I see fit. You cannot stop me; this body is powerful and whatever deal you made with Clint will constrain you. He broke accord with me when he brought you into this. Now you'll both pay."
Bruce struggled then, the Hulk pulling at the magiked bonds; this was the most dangerous moment, when Mab was cornered. With straining muscles, the Hulk snapped the cords and Bruce tensed, ready to lunge into the fray.
"I shall enjoy this, lover. More than any of your pathetic efforts in bed." Floating upward off the ground, Mab was surrounded by a ball of energy, pulsing with power. "You had to know I wouldn't agree. After all, it's in my nature."
"Mab. Please. Don't do this." Herne/Clint sounded sincere, a certain kind of sadness in his eyes that spoke of long histories. "Whatever you may think of me, I did care for you once."
"And that is your weakness. Did you learn nothing from your punishment? Hounding the lost forever for the want of soul? You were always beneath me."
The air in the clearing grew tinged with red as she flexed her power, and Mab's people ducked for cover. Natasha had the handle of the carrier in her hand and she hid it behind Mab's throne. Steve pulled himself up and stood his ground behind Herne, Tony on his left. And the Hulk came out, growing to his full size, big fist ready to smack the woman about to hurt Clint. Like a ripple, a wave washed out from her and things … changed. Packed earth gave way to Persian carpet, stone altar to ornate dining room table, the doorway to the barrow now a set of French doors.
"Enough is enough," she said. "I am Mab, Queen of Winter, and you are all just ice beneath my feet."
Another burst, this time aimed right at Herne/Clint; a bolt of red lined with silvery white jumped from her outstretched hands, blasting outward. Steve jumped forward, pushing Tony out of the way, but didn't have his shield. The Hulk roared … and the magic sputtered, dissipating harmlessly around Herne/Clint. Mab fell, landing on her knees on the forest floor, staring at her hands as the light went out.
"What have you done?" she asked, looking up. "What have you done!"
"I've done nothing. You made a deal; Clint opened the door, upholding his end. You cannot hurt him." That little smirk, the one Bruce knew so well, turned up the corners of Herne's mouth.
"He broke it first, letting you in." Her hands were shaking; a rivulet of blood ran from her nose and her ear.
"I was already here. You never asked him if he knew any others of our kind, darling, and he didn't offer the information. Face it, he beat you at your own game."
"Fine." She drew herself up but couldn't hide the way her limbs were trembling with the effort. "I will stay here, diminish. You can tell Titania that I yield."
"Not in that body you won't," Bruce said. "We checked Wanda's background. You brought her parents together so she, her brother and her sister would be born. And you didn't count on Wanda being as powerful as she is."
"NO!" Mab grabbed her head with her hands, pressing tightly. "Stop it, you wretched child. I gave you power just like you wanted!"
"In fact, we're all off limits aren't we? Steve and Natasha have been genetically engineered. All your people are in mutants; messing with the natural development of genetic patterns means everyone who -has developed abilities or has the genetic make up for it are out-of-bounds. Tony's arc reactor wouldn't count, but Fiske dosed him with the nannites and that's interference." Bruce pressed home the point, shrinking back down to human size as he spoke. Clint had been right; she was trapped with few options. "You'd need a willing plain old vanilla human; I don't see any around here. So get the hell out of her and take your friends with you."
She glared defiantly at them all. "You have no idea," she whispered, struggling to say the words, "what you've invited into your midst. The Great Hunter of Souls walks the Earth again. You deserve each other."
Before anyone could react, she dropped her head back, mouth open in a silent scream as blue-white light poured out, coalescing into a ball that floated above the altar. All her men fell as well, smaller energy balls gathering in the air. Brighter and brighter she spun, angry tendrils shooting off like wayward strands of lightning.
"See, here's another thing you didn't think of, Mab." Heedless of the flying static, Herne/Clint walked up to her. "The one who opens the door controls it; you know that. And we can make it do what we want."
With a wave of his hand, a wind spun up and pushed her and the others towards the Barrow and the gaping maw of the portal, sucking them all in with a sickeningly juicy pop. Fighting against the onslaught of the storm that now barreled out of the other dimension, icy wind and a dangerous riptide yanking on them all, Herne/Clint made it over to the doorway and began to draw symbols on the rocks walls of the burial chamber. With each new one on the door, one disappeared from Herne/Clint's skin, and the wind began to die down. Finally, he finished one last curve and the door blinked shut, gone as if it never existed.
For a few heartbeats, no one moved in the sudden stillness. Then one of the fallen bodies groaned, and Bruce started towards Herne/Clint. Natasha beat him there, her gun out, held absolutely still, pointed right at Herne/Clint's head.
"Get out of him." She didn't so much as budge when Herne/Clint turned to face her. "Now."
"Don't worry, I shall leave Clint, but you'll understand if I feel the need to get him to safety first. When I leave, he will need care. He's drained and, had his soul not been so stubborn, he would not have survived the ordeal of opening the door. Let me get you all back to the manor house." Herne stood his ground. "I have made a promise to a great champion, a great scholar, and a great warrior. Unlike Mab, I keep my word."
"You were married to that train wreck?" Tony had to ask. It was nice, actually, to have that much normalcy at the moment. "And you're alive to tell the tale? Balls of steel, man."
"More than you know. And, to clarify, I was not always beneath her," Herne/Clint grinned.
"Oh, dude, I think I like you. Assuming you're not a crazy power-hungry faerie type. Although, the orgy thing, we can keep that." Tony nudged Steve's shoulder.
"Actually, if we can find the person who teleported us here, that would be a good way to get everyone back. I believe it was the gentleman with the green polo shirt." Steve covered his blush by taking the lead. "Getting back is the priority."
"And clothes," Natasha added. "I've seen enough of your penises for one night, thank you very much. And if you say a word, Tony, I will shoot you."