Been There, Blown That Up
Summary: After Loki's defeat and his fall from the portal, Tony starts preaching about a murderous purple titan out to get them in the depths of space.
On the other side of the universe, Nebula loses her cool approximately two seconds after laying eyes on Thanos and finds herself on a wild chase through the galaxy. Now, where exactly was that pathetic piece of rock Terra again?
A change of clothes and a roll of tape to seal off the lab later and Tony was busy getting rid of the last traces of soot that were stubbornly refusing to leave his face.
"You gotta get that thing under control," he said, sparing Nebula a glance and marveling for the dozenth time that none of the machinery in her body had taken any damage during the blast that had destroyed the entirety of his lab – and, more importantly, the mind stone.
Tony supposed that as the vessel of the power stone, Nebula was given the added bonus of not falling victim to its destructive force while using it.
Nebula gave him an intent gaze. "You are lucky it was only your tower that was destroyed."
Tony let that statement hang in the air. "Wait, one sec. Please tell me you actually tested it before using it with me in close proximity."
Nebula avoided his eyes. "I used it to murder a psychopath, and again to destroy the soul stone."
Tony stared. "You blew up a planet both of those times."
Nebula didn't answer.
Tony let himself drop back into his seat bonelessly. "This is the closest I've come to dying this time around," he realized.
"Quit being dramatic."
"Excuse you. I'm not the one who risked blowing up the entire planet instead of getting a grip on my power-up, first." He let out a huff. "It's not even your own planet you gambled."
Clearly the best course of action was to help Nebula practice her new found powers – mostly as insurance that Earth wouldn't fall victim to them another time, but also out of plain, scientific curiosity.
"Sir. The director of SHIELD is requesting permission to enter the penthouse."
"I already told you what to do with people trying to," Tony froze as the words caught up with him. "Did you say director? Wait, did you say requesting?"
Nick Fury did not make requests. He made demands or gave orders. He definitely didn't invest time in coming to the tower himself – especially not now, weeks after everything had started to go down – not if he could send some of his agents instead.
"Yes, Sir. Director Fury is waiting for your answer." A note of amusement entered JARVIS' voice. "It would appear that he has grown tired of his subordinates failing to move further than the entrance hall."
"Huh." Tony paused. "Okay. Whatever. Send him up, JARVIS."
"You're allowing a stranger to come here?" Nebula asked, disapproval in her voice.
"He's not a stranger. I've known him for years." Tony knew Fury well enough to take him seriously when he decided to make an appearance in person.
"You trust him?"
Tony hesitated. "I... wouldn't say that."
Tony didn't know Fury enough to trust him. At the very least, he trusted him not to throw Nebula into a cell while she was under Tony's protection.
Even if Fury wanted to, it wasn't like he'd succeed. Few people were able to hold Nebula where she did not want to be, and she did not need Tony to make sure of that. Still, it was the sentiment that counted.
"I don't want you to get rid of him for me or anything like that," Tony clarified before Nebula could get any ideas. "Just let me talk to him. I don't think he's gonna do anything stupid."
Nebula gave a careless shrug and a grunt that Tony interpreted as agreement.
He tentatively decided to trust Nebula not to murder Fury in cold blood the second he entered the penthouse and focused his attention on the doorway.
Fury was missing the air of confident superiority that Tony had learned to expect from him. Rather, his expression was closed off and wary.
"Stark." Fury wore a scowl Tony knew not to take personally. "Care to tell me what you've done to my agents?"
Tony blinked. "Why do you think I did anything to the spy twins?"
"Their last couple of reports can be summed up as 'Good luck and leave us out of it'," Fury deadpanned, forcing Tony to hide a snort.
"I don't control what they do or don't tell you. You're the one paying them, not me." Although Tony couldn't deny that he was pleased at the implication that Natasha and Clint had decided to be Avengers first, and SHIELD agents second. "Care to tell me what you're actually here for?"
"You want to speak frankly?" Fury said. "Fine. How's this: Is it true that you're harboring an illegal extraterrestrial being in your home?"
"Of course not," Tony said, not batting an eyelash.
Fury glared. "That was a rhetorical question. She's standing right next to you."
"I'm his cousin," Nebula said.
"Yeah," Tony agreed. "My cousin."
Fury's glare deepened.
"She's not from here," Tony added.
"She's from Norway."
Fury kept glaring. Tony refused to look away first. Eventually, Fury heaved a sigh.
"I'm not being paid enough to deal with you," he muttered, very likely talking about Tony and not the blue-skinned alien standing in the same room as them. "This isn't my problem."
"You're the one who decided to come here," Tony reminded him.
"Somebody has to make sure you're not going to blow up the planet."
"I wouldn't be worried about me," Tony muttered, stealing a conspicuous glance at Nebula.
In a way, Tony did sort of feel bad for Fury. He'd become the director of SHIELD for reasons similar to those Tony had for becoming an Avenger: to protect Earth from threats that it wouldn't be able to face on her own.
He'd made it his job to collect information and know more than everybody else in order to stay on top of things. Then Tony had waltzed in, uncovered conspiracies and threats he couldn't have possibly known of and proven that SHIELD was almost laughably unequipped to deal with them.
Tony may not agree with everything Fury had done over the course of their long, rocky relationship, but he could admit that Fury had never done anything to make him doubt that they were on the same side.
At least nothing Tony hadn't eventually gotten over.
"By the way," Tony added, deciding to pull Fury into the circle of people who knew the truth about him, "Carol says hi."
Tony's lips pulled into a smirk. "Say, how many conspiracy theories about me have you read?"
Fury paused, considering him with narrowed, suspicious eyes. "Most of them."
"How'd you like the one about me being from the future?"
"It's right below the one of you being brainwashed by one of your alien visitors," Fury promptly answered, luring a snort from Tony.
"Yeah, well. I don't know about that one, but I can confirm the former."
Another pause. "You've met her? You've met Carol?"
Tony's smile dimmed. "Not in the best of circumstances. She no longer knows I even exist. It never happened for anyone other than me and Nebula."
"You don't know where she is, then?"
"Right now? Afraid not." Tony hesitated, contemplating. "I might be able to find a way to contact her, though. If you really wanted to."
"That right?" Fury huffed. "In that case tell her to get a damn cell phone. I don't know how much longer my pager's battery is gonna hold up."
Tony's mouth dropped open. He froze. Was this a stroke? Was this what a stroke felt like?
"Did you say pager?" Under his breath, he muttered, "What the fuck, Carol."
The corner of Fury's mouth tugged upwards. "We met in the 90s, Stark. What did you expect?"
"I'm kind of used to a tad more innovation coming from up there." A pager. Tony hadn't actually planned on involving Carol unless the end of the world was about to happen. Again. But a pager? Tony was seriously considering changing his mind just because of that.
Fury gave him a long, contemplative look and Tony refused to budge under the weight of it.
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Fury said eventually, "but it seems like you know what you're doing. Somehow."
All mishaps and developments considered, Tony had to agree with Fury. He might have failed spectacularly at keeping a low profile – not that he'd particularly tried from the start – but he had so far brought a large number of their allies together, made sure to keep the peace within his own team and seen half of the infinity stones destroyed.
"There's a lot at stake," Tony allowed. "We gotta be at our best if we want to stand a chance later on."
"And you know all about those stakes?"
"I lived through them," Tony answered curtly. "I think I've got a pretty good idea."
Fury looked away and sighed. "I can't say I enjoy not having all of the cards." His eyes swayed to Nebula. "Or to simply take you at your word on who is and isn't our ally."
"First time for everything." Tony shared a glance with Nebula and forced himself to drop the teasing tone. "The spy twins can keep you up to date. We're on the same side. It would be stupid not to accept your help, if you're offering."
"And you're telling my agents everything?" Fury raised his eyebrow doubtfully.
"Everything I remember," Tony said. "Everything I think will be important. Look, it's not easy to keep track of everything, alright? I'm doing my best."
"You could have done worse," Nebula grumbled, her way of giving Tony a compliment. At least he was pretty sure that it was. He'd take it as such.
"Right back at you." Tony's mouth curved in a smile. "Considering everything that went sideways last time, I'm honestly kind of impressed."
Fury looked like he wanted to ask about the details. It was in his nature to collect intel and widen his perspective, to collect the cards he needed to stay on top of the game they played.
It was also his nature to read between the lines and interpret Tony and Nebula's behavior beyond the words they shared. He seemed to decide not to make them talk about the disaster that had been the timeline they'd come from. Whatever his reasons, Tony appreciated it.
"Just promise that you'll contact me if there's something we're able to do." Fury's expression was pinched as though it physically pained him to admit not being at the top of things for once.
His alternative in the other timeline had been to lose his entire organisation – and almost his life – to HYDRA. He'd live.
Besides, if Fury was already offering... "There's one thing," Tony admitted, furrowing his brows. He hadn't asked for assistance so far because SHIELD had been scrambling to clean up after their HYDRA reveal.
"Look, there's this thing I kinda hoped to wrap up ages ago. It's so far proven a bit... difficult to pull off without giving it my full attention." And with so many other things taking up his mind, there was no way for Tony to give the twins his full attention.
"Tell me what it is and I'll see what I can do," Fury said, massaging his temples with one hand and sounding incredulous that he was essentially asking Tony for orders.
Tony supposed that after the last few weeks Fury was willing to swallow his ego if it meant stepping his foot back into the ring. He tried not to enjoy the moment too much.
"There are two HYDRA operatives we managed to pull over to our side last time around," Tony started. "Twins. Both mutants, as far as I know. Kind of hate my guts, which is why they joined HYDRA in the first place."
"Romanoff and Barton mentioned them." Fury furrowed his brows. "You were trying to find them back when you retrieved the Winter Soldier. You haven't found them?"
"Things kind of kept happening afterwards," Tony admitted, suppressing a wince. "I've still got people on it," including JARVIS, "but they kind of slipped into the background. So far they've done a pretty decent job of keeping themselves hidden."
"You cannot be serious." Nebula leveled a glare at Tony that could have made a seasoned fighter wet themselves. "I have been sitting in this tower entirely without use, and you did not think to simply tell me?"
"I kind of want them retrieved alive and unharmed. Not maimed and traumatized."
Nebula crossed her arms. "I am more than capable of exercising restraint."
"Are you though?" Tony raised an eyebrow. "You sure?"
"Just send her along with us." Exasperation weighted heavily in Fury's voice as though he had reached the end of his rope. "We'll find them and make sure she doesn't go overboard."
Seeing as 'us' most likely included Clint and Natasha, Tony wasn't exactly reassured by the offered solution.
Then again, Pietro and Wanda weren't helpless. They'd done a pretty good job at staying under the radar until now. Perhaps sending in the cavalry was exactly the right course of action to finally secure them and begin working on a way to redeem them.
And if they made trouble? Tony doubted that there was a better way of making them regret their ill chosen loyalties than sending three of SHIELD's finest and Nebula after them.
If Tony wasn't quite as petty of a person, he might have found it in himself to feel sorry for them.
Random Goon #62 felt close to crying. During these last few weeks (or had it been months?) her life had taken a turn not only for the worst, but for the most bizarre and ridiculously insane. She'd grudgingly accepting that she had only herself to blame for the way her life had turned out – although on the other hand, she ought to have killed puppies in cold blood to deserve even an ounce of this suffering.
If only she was still sitting in her cozy, peaceful cell at SHIELD. If only that bunch of fellow HYDRA agents hadn't staged a break out. If only she hadn't gotten swept up along with them.
#62 hated being on the run. She hated being wanted by the government and SHIELD and the Avengers. Sure, she'd been a prisoner at SHIELD, but at least she'd had some peace and quiet. At least she hadn't been in danger of being hunted down by the Avengers.
#62 wasn't sure how she managed to get herself into these messes. Sitting in some abandoned base in the middle of nowhere in some European country she didn't remember the name of definitely wasn't what she imagined her life would lead to.
#62 turned her head to look at her fellow fugitives.
"Are you going to take the first watch?" the female one asked, the harsh lines around her mouth speaking of the long time they'd spent running for their lives.
Her brother nodded, sharing a grim look with her. #62 felt slightly better knowing that she wasn't the only one tired of it all.
She counted herself lucky that they had the mutant twins with them. All these weeks of being on the run had done nothing to teach #62 any actual survival skills. Forget the government or SHIELD, #62 would be done for if she so much as left the base and wandered around the wilderness on her own.
She was pathetically glad to have some super powered mutants on their side.
She also wondered how her life would have turned out if she, too, had been born with superpowers. Maybe she'd be a super villain by now. Who knew. (She'd bet that the health benefits would be better than in her current occupation as a fugitive.)
Muffled yelling and curses from the front of their hideout told #62 that her life was about to once again metaphorically beat her over the head with a bludgeon. Hadn't she suffered enough for her sins? Wasn't hanging out with technically-neo-nazis on a daily basis enough of a punishment for joining them in the first place?
#62 imagined herself trying to explain her reasoning in front of a judge and promptly felt the urge to burst into hysterical tears.
The urge was amplified when a blue-skinned woman with a blaster for an arm rounded the corner and scanned the room with a curt, efficient gaze. The protesting yells that had announced her arrival had ceased.
"Maximoff," the blue-skinned woman snarled. (Blue! Why was she blue? Was it related to whatever powers she had? Was she born this way? Was she simply a weirdo?) "Show yourselves."
It said something about #62's life that she almost cried in relief when Black Widow and Hawkeye followed in the bossy blue lady's wake. They sported expressions bordering on exasperation and made no attempt to hide their presence.
They may not have acted less hostile towards a bunch of fugitive HYDRA agents, but at least #62 knew (somewhat) what to expect from them.
Predictability or not, her chances of getting out of this alive were still practically zero.
#62 lost track of everything that happened afterwards. All she knew was that by the end of it the twins – who were supposed to be their trump card – were captured, her fellow HYDRA goons secured or dead and #62 widely unharmed. It may have been related to the fact that she'd frozen on the spot and hadn't actually raised a single finger to defend herself.
Perhaps she'd simply looked too pitiful to register as any sort of threat.
She later blamed it on the adrenaline in her system and the part of her mind that had already finished circling through the stages of grief.
#62 watched blankly as yet another pair of suicidal HYDRA agents were mowed down by the crazy blue lady and her metal arm. Next she knew, she found herself on her knees in front of Black Widow, contemplating whether kissing her boots was more likely to give her bonus points or a quicker death.
"Take me with you," she begged, uncaring about how pathetic she sounded. She channeled everything she remembered from theater class in 8th grade by making tears well up in her eyes and hoped it would be enough to pierce through to Black Widow's cold, possibly non-existent heart. "I didn't want any of this! Just throw me back into my cell at SHIELD."
Hopefully she'd be getting a sturdier one. One that those lunatics from HYDRA wouldn't manage to bust her out off. If anybody was unlucky enough to get unwillingly swept up in a prison break a second time, it was #62.
Black Widow looked down at her with a raised eyebrow, and #62 contemplated fainting on the spot. Weren't there animals who played dead as a survival tactic? Perhaps the same would work out for her.
"Get up," Black Widow said, and #62 realized that not much else was needed until she'd no longer need to merely pretend to faint. If Black Widow so much as raised her voice at her, she'd drop into blessed oblivion.
#62 obeyed. Black Widow gave her a once over. She shared a glance with Hawkeye and smirked.
#62 was flooded with regret and the desperate wish to be able to join the lucky HYDRA soldiers lying stiff on the ground.
A few weeks and a ridiculous amount of rehabilitation sessions later, #62 found herself with a probational shackle around her ankle and a desk job at Stark Industries. The work was boring and monotonous and she did the same thing every single day. Nothing special ever happened to mix it up, and the craziest things happening in her life were watching the Avengers on TV after their most recent insanity was long done for.
#62 clocked in for another day at her dull, predictable, well-paid job, stifled a yawn and took a moment to send a prayer of gratitude to all the metaphorical and literal deities she knew of.
A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful To Mockingbird, PyrothTenka and Igornerd!
I'm back! :D Honestly, taking that break was the best thing I could have possibly done. I might do it again some time in the future - I think we're all happier with a month long break now and again than me disappearing completely.
This story is almost completely planned out by now. I'm only missing like, one or two chapters that still need to be sketched out. Feels super weird, being this close to the end... But hey, there's plenty more chapters left to post, so let's enjoy the ride while it lasts! :D
PS: I missed you. :)