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Prologue - Invasion
"It is a signal to all the realms that the Earth is ready for a higher form of war."
When Thor said those words, Fury didn't really believe it. The arrogance of an old civilization, he thought. Just a so called "god" looking down on the potential of humans. But he knew, or at least he thought he knew, that with a little bit of time and a lot of effort, they could eventually become strong enough to defend themselves from any external threat.
They didn't need permission from an alien to use the Tesseract. They didn't need permission to grow, to evolve. They could take care of themselves, thank you very much, and the condescending Asgardian had no right to treat them as if they were children. Fury remembered the anger he felt that time; of course, this anger was very much fueled by Loki's scepter, but it had originated from inside him.
Seeing the Kryptonians fly through the city buildings as if they were made of paper made him rethink that.
Seeing the destruction a single Kryptonian ship had brought on the city, almost destroying the entire world, made him rethink that.
Seeing the mighty Avengers, his last line of defense, who had managed to stop an alien invasion led by a god, completely outclassed and useless as General Zod and Superman fought in the sky made him rethink that.
Every single agent of SHIELD was rethinking that, he noticed. Everyone's eyes in the Helicarrier were glued to the screens, as the satellite's images tried to follow the unbelievable fast and brutal battle of the two aliens. Nobody was speaking. Nobody was moving. The shock and helplessness were almost tangible in the room, as SHIELD realized that there wasn't a single thing they could do but hope for Superman to come victorious.
Fury hated that feeling. When there was a problem, he solved that problem. By whatever means necessary. That was what he did all his life. That was what the SHIELD under his command was led to do. But what could he do now? When the Chitauri attacked, led by Loki, his team was pushed to the limits, but in the end they delivered. The Avengers won the day. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye had been victorious. SHIELD had brought them together to save the world and they had done it.
Things were different this time, because there was simply nothing they could do against that kind of threat. Against that "higher form of war", Fury though, bitterly.
His weapons were useless. The Kryptonians most likely wouldn't even feel them, if they could hit the target at all, which was impossible to do since they were flying so fast that they were basically blurs. That was the reason why he didn't even consider to send jets over there, because they wouldn't be able to fly and maneuver that quickly and the pilots would just go there to die. Similarly, sending soldiers on foot when the city was falling apart was equally stupid.
And the Avengers? They were most likely feeling what common agents felt when they stood side by side with them; that is, they were feeling, probably for the first time, what was like to simply not being able to do a single fucking thing.
The two members who could at least try to do anything were Thor and the Hulk. Problem was – and wasn't that a kick in the balls – not a single one of them was in a position to help. Thor was inaccessible, doing who knows what, who knows where, since the beginning of this clusterfuck, and the Hulk could only watch from the ground as the two aliens flew in the sky, unable to do a single fucking thing to get in the fight.
Stark had been blasted from the sky and his armor simply wasn't in condition to fly anymore. Captain America, unfortunately for them all, hadn't received the gift of flying when he took the Super-Soldier Serum, thus was stuck on the ground, helping the civilians dying like ants as the city fell on top of them. And Natasha and Clint, well, saying they were outclassed was the understatement of the fucking century.
No, as much as Fury hated it, the only hope for humanity lied with a fucking alien. With a fucking 21 year old alien from fucking Kansas who had never, in his entire life up to that point, thrown a fucking punch for real against a living opponent.
All he could do was hope.
Natasha had trouble believing her eyes. She had seen pretty amazing things in her time. She saw Captain America fighting, with all the strength of the Super-Soldier Serum, as his body moved with unnatural grace and force. She had seen the Iron Man fighting against a god on equal grounds, his technology proving to be a match against his opponent's supernatural abilities. She had seen Thor, the god of thunder from the legends, swinging his mighty Mjölnir, calling storms from the sky and defeating Chitauri soldiers as if they were nothing. She had seen the Incredible Hulk smashing his enemies with unstoppable force.
But what she was seeing right now was on a whole other level. From the top of a ruined building, covered in dust from the collapsed city, Natasha could only observe as Superman and Zod battled, each punch thrown strong enough to break the windows of the still standing buildings with shockwaves only; each skyscraper breaking in half as their bodies collided with them, the concrete walls and steel foundations proving to be as resistant as a glass window would be against a nuclear warhead.
She knew Clark was powerful. She had seen all the incredible things he had done when Fury had sent her to find the "enhanced" person who was helping people all across the globe. She had followed the urban legends that appeared wherever he passed, had interrogated the "friends of the friends" who had seen something. She had even watched footage of his previously battle against the Kryptonians in Smallville.
But this? If anyone told her that shy, unsecure, overly polite kid she had met – because whatever Fury said about him being a potential threat was severally discredited once she met him and was able to assess his personality – could be able to bring destruction on that level, she would find it ludicrous.
Not that he was the one responsible for this. Oh no, she didn't think that for a second. Actually, she knew for a fact the only reason they were still alive was because Clark was there. But that didn't affect the surprise she felt by the level of power she was witnessing. It was like the only limits he had were there because he had put them there. His unbelievably fast speed seemed to only increase as he fought, his punches were getting stronger each time, the blows he was taking, also increasingly stronger, seemed to no longer bother him the more he got into the fight.
It was amazing. And at the same time terrifying. Because as powerful as Clark was, he was equally untrained. It was very likely that no one was seeing this, but to her it was as clear as day: Clark had no idea what he was doing.
He was relying solely on his gifts, because he had no training or experience. Instinct had kicked in and it was all that was guiding him. No one would even attempt to consider, but the fact was Clark was a civilian; an immeasurable powerful one, but still a civilian. And he was going against a trained general who had the same gifts as he had.
Every single person in the city, in the world, was scared, but possibly no one but Natasha and Clark's mother would know that Clark himself was maybe the most scared person of them all. Because he knew that if he failed – he, the civilian farm boy turned journalist battling the high general of his people – the world and everyone in it would pay the ultimate price.
It was a good thing that the symbol on his chest was a symbol of hope, because they would really need it right now.
Clint tried to move as best as he could with his broken leg, while following the two missiles colliding in the sky, the thunderous sound echoing in his skull. That kind of shit was above his pay grade. He was an agent, a damn good one, but when confronted against fellow humans. An exception or two could be made sometimes; he could shoot an arrow against an ugly ass Chitauri and nothing gave him quite so much satisfaction as dropping Loki from the sky with an explosive arrow. But what the hell did Fury expected him to do against beings who could fly faster than a bullet and shrug off missiles to the face?!
Nat had said it that one time and she was completely right. They weren't trained for this sort of thing. This was monsters and magic and aliens and he was fed up with it.
He needed a vacation. He needed to stay at least a weekend with Laura and the kids. But for that to happen the "super kid" would have to win this fight and if there was one thing Clint didn't like was placing the safety of his family in the hands of an unknown.
But what choice did he have when faced against monsters and magic and aliens?
Steve Rogers raised his shield over his head, protecting two civilians from the falling debris, while he guided them away from the destroyed buildings. Some kind of red energy beams had hit a building not too long ago, cutting it as if it were a hot knife slashing a piece of butter, and striking three more buildings after that; luckily, only the first one collapsed.
The chaos was absurd. People were running everywhere, not knowing what to do. Steve was trying to call their attention, to make them follow him, to calm them down. The subway was probably a good escape plan right now, and he was yelling orders to the police officers in scene to take the civilians there.
It was Loki's invasion all over again. Except worse, if that was even possible. When the ship shooting the big, blue laser was neutralized Steve actually thought things were finished. Almost all hostiles had been defeated and the only one left was General Zod against every single one of them. How bad could that be?
Very, very bad, apparently.
Steve had bragged to Fury once that there was nothing more that could surprise him, not after the Super-Soldier Serum, Hydra, the Tesseract and having survived being frozen for 70 years. Fury proved him wrong with the Helicarrier soon after, that was true, and then Thor and Loki managed to surprise him again by joining mythology and aliens in the story. And finally, after all that, Steve thought again, that he had seen it all.
He was wrong once again.
What Clark and General Zod were doing was unbelievable. For the first time since the Super-Soldier Serum Steve felt like the skinny kid he once was, full of courage but no actual strength to make a difference. The simple fact is that there was nothing he could do against that kind of power. It was like trying to face Thor or the Hulk with his bare hands; he could certainly take a chance, but success was far from the most likely possible outcome.
He took a deep breath, calming himself. Panicking now wouldn't help anyone. Things weren't lost. Clark was fighting with all his might right now and he would trust the kid. He couldn't say he knew him very well, but he felt Clark was, despite being an alien, very much like himself. He was there, risking his life since the beginning, fighting against his own people to protect humanity.
Yes, Steve was going to trust him to stop Zod. Maybe he and the rest of the Avengers didn't have the power to join the fight right now, but they began that as a team and the kid was a part of that. Alone they couldn't do a thing, but together… Who knows? The Avengers had done it once.
Dr. Banner's mind functioned at its most instinctual level when he transformed into the Hulk. So instead of a brilliant mind, top at its field, the Hulk resembled more an intelligent animal; grunts instead of speech, action and reaction instead of planning, emotions instead of rationality. Except that, unlike with other animals, he didn't exactly possessed a fight-or-flight instinct.
His only instinct was fight-and-fight.
Which was why the Hulk was, for lack of a better word, frustrated with how things were going. He was strong, too strong; he was fast; he could jump over buildings. But fly he could not. And that was why he was obligated to stay rooted to the ground, like a cat forced to watch a bird flying away.
And it was pissing him off!
His muscles were trembling with the need to smash. It wasn't simply anger, it wasn't simply fury, it was his instinct to hit and rip and destroy his prey until there was nothing else left. The Hulk was feeling something he had never felt before; he was being denied the opportunity to fight and it was driving him insane.
Deep inside his mind, Dr. Banner was trying to calm down, trying to rein it in before he went look for another target to vent his frustrations and became a risk. Of course his thoughts weren't as detailed as he liked, the Hulk side of his mind being in control, but the overall feeling he had was that this needed to stop. The Hulk was suffering because it couldn't fight; Dr. Banner was suffering because he needed to.
From the bottom of his self, Bruce just begged this to end. As quickly as possible.
"Holy fucking shit!" exclaimed Jessica Jones, for what seemed to be the hundredth time, unable to blink as she watched Clark being tossed across a building so strongly that he came across on the other side and kept hitting the other buildings behind that. "Jesus fucking Christ!"
She couldn't believe what she was seeing. What was happening just before her eyes was simply too much. In an automatic gesture, her hand clinched harder around Trish's, as her legs stopped moving from the shock of seeing her friend striking buildings like a bowling ball.
Everybody who talked to Jessica for more than a minute could notice that she was a pessimist. Of course, she wouldn't ever admit it. She wasn't pessimistic, she would counter, but a realist; it wasn't her fault that reality was, by its very nature, shitty. So when the lights on her apartment turned off, and her TV became blurry for no apparent reason, delivering a pretty ominous threat to the whole world by what seemed to be a psychotic alien, she knew they were fucked. It was "The Incident" all over again.
But worse. Much worse.
Not only because the level of destruction was bigger. Not only because the Avengers looked as hopeless as everyone else. Not because it seemed to threaten the whole world at once, instead of a single city.
It was worse because the whole thing was happening directly against someone she considered a friend; and as strong as she was, there was absolutely nothing she could do to help.
So maybe she was a bitch. She wouldn't deny it. In fact, Jessica would be the first to admit it. She was violent, short tempered, alcoholic and all around fucked up in the head. She liked very, very few people. But the people she liked, the people she considered friends and family, she would gladly kill and die for.
And watching all this disaster happening without being able to help was like having a bullet piercing her chest. Like watching a car coming in your direction without time to dodge, like watching your home catching fire and being unable to put it out, like being too far away to stop a friend from falling down the stairs.
Like being controlled by Kilgrave all over again, forced to watch from behind your own eyes as your body did terrible things without being able to do a single thing to stop it.
"We need to go, Jes!" Trish said, urgently, pushing her hand. "We need to get out of here."
Jessica didn't move or answer for a few seconds. She breathed and closed her eyes; and then turned back, taking Trish with her. She couldn't help Clark, but she could help Trish right now. Clark would deal with this, he would kick that guy's ass back to space. And when that was done and he came back, then she would punch him in the face for making her worry like that.
She just hoped she wouldn't break her fingers again.
"Jarvis, I need eyes on them!" yelled Tony Stark to his artificial intelligence, while he tried to make a few critical field repairs on the suit. "Link every satellite, every camera in this city, everything capable of recording that you can find."
"Right away, sir," responded Jarvis, transmitting the images to Tony's helmet.
This couldn't be happening, not again, Tony thought. It was like one of his nightmares since The Incident, except he never actually dreamed something this horrible. Shaking his head, he went back to trying to fix his repulsors, trying to keep his mind occupied to avoid freaking out. That was something he really couldn't afford it right now.
"Sir, it appears they left the atmosphere," Jarvis said, bringing Tony's attention to the images on his screen. He saw Zod grabbing Superman and basically exploding to the sky. After a few seconds of no updates, Jarvis added "We lost one satellite."
Tony raised one eyebrow. They were fighting in space? Could Kryptonians survive in vacuum? Well, what can't they survive? After what they did against him and his armor, against even the Hulk, Tony wasn't exactly incredibly surprised to find out one more ability they seemed to possess.
"Sir, they re-entered atmosphere. They are losing altitude quickly."
And then he could see them again, like a meteor dropping from the sky, burning debris all around them while flames seemed to surround their bodies. The pieces of what was probably his own destroyed satellite fell all across town, shocking against buildings, and the Kryptonians continued their descent, glowing red like a falling star.
He could actually hear when they shocked against the ground, everything trembling for a moment.
For one second, Tony closed his eyes again. He stopped trying to fix his repulsors and just focused on his breathing, trying once more to control himself. To be the man Pepper deserved. To be the Iron Man, member of the Avengers. To be the man he knew he could be, armor or no armor.
Because he fully admitted, even if only to himself, he never felt as afraid as he was at that moment.
They crashed through the glass ceiling, knocking down a statue when the base made of stone broke down. Fast as lightning, Clark tossed Zod down and flew against him, hitting him on the floor and beating his head against the ground until the marble broke.
Clark used all the strength he could muster to hold Zod down. He grabbed him in a chokehold, his muscles straining with the effort to simply hold him to the ground, to stop him from flying away and starting killing people again.
Zod, obviously, fought to get away, grunting with the effort, the rage burning inside him. Even that, however, proved useless, because Clark didn't budge for a second. But for how long could he hold him down? How long until Zod managed to shake him off and went on his path of destruction?
No help would come, Clark knew that. Not because there weren't people willing to help, but because they simply didn't have the strength to help. There wasn't a police force there to handcuff Zod, SHIELD agents to take him away. There wasn't a single prison in the entire world capable of securing a being such as Zod.
Zod stopped struggling for a second and looked at the people still there. Clark's breath hitched when he realized what the general was thinking. With mad eyes, Zod tried to look at Clark as best as he could while being held down.
"If you love this people so much, you can mourn for them!" And fire came out of his eyes against a scared family.
Clark used all his strength to pull Zod's head, to try to stop the energy beams from hitting the family. The heat from the beam began to break the stone wall, as the family hugged each other, trying to make themselves as small as possible. Zod fought with all his might as well, the beams slowly moving in their direction.
"Don't do this!" Clark yelled, desperate. "Stop!"
The family was crying, falling on the ground as they moved away from the energy beams, the father pushing his wife and children away while they begged for mercy.
Zod didn't even hesitate.
The beams were inches away from the family, sparks flying away, the screaming more panicked than ever. Zod wouldn't stop. Not until every last one of them was dead, Clark finally accepted. Not until Earth was as devoid of life as Krypton.
So he closed his eyes, the tears falling down his face, and made his choice.
The sound of Zod's neck breaking would haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life.