A/N: So...this lil Round Robin almost didn't happen. I wrote the opening when I was having a really bad day & just wanted to be violent, then kind of told Beta Branch about it, who promptly giggled at me and lovingly made fun of me for clearly being a psychopath, after which I was like..."Yeah...it's too dark and violent for a Round Robin" so I didn't post it. Then, a few days later, I changed my mind. I was all, "Ya know what, guys, I challenge you to play off this! You improv off my dark, twisted head, and we'll see what happens!" And what happened was AWESOME!
So this one's definitely violent, and bloody, and there's a ton of action and mayhem and sad panda days for our team. We had to do just a little bit of collab this time as opposed to the usual just throwing stuff out as we went along, because the characters are all over the place and we needed to help each other keep track of what was going on. In the end, it still took me over two hours to make sure everything flowed together nicely once I put it all in one document; but rest assured, I left everyone's posts almost exactly as they wrote them minus a few tweaks in grammar and stuff, plus making a few small adjustments to account for continuity. Everything else is the fault of Red Tigress, Victoria LeRoux, and my own messed up head.
And to throw in a plug and another reminder, Beta Branch is by no means an exclusive club. Anyone can join, so if you want to get in on these Round Robins, or just want some help with your own stories, we'll take anyone with open arms. Mostly. As long as you can handle our insanity and don't mind getting some friendly advice on your works. The link's over on my profile if you're interested. ;)
Enjoy! (and give yourself a lot of time, 'cause this critter's over 18k words!)
The scream began in his thigh, traveled along like crackling electricity stretching its tendrils through his nervous system into his chest, gaining velocity aided by the air in his lungs, ripping through his throat, and escaping through clenched teeth that were desperately trying to keep his pain hidden from his abductor.
This was not the way things were supposed to go down.
"Hawkeye, go check out the east perimeter."
He couldn't remember much of what happened after the order was given. He knew he had confirmed, headed out quickly, quietly, turned a corner, and then...
The skin tore in his other thigh, and cold metal bore its way through his muscle, lodging itself against sensitive bone. Another anguished scream escaped his control, followed by a traitorous tear that set out on a lonely path past his temple to disappear into his sweat-drenched hair.
The wheel turned again, bringing him upright, allowing the blood that had settled in his head to flow back down through his body. His breathing came out in panting gasps; his mind unsure which injury to focus on, trading between allowing him to feel excruciating pain one second, and blissful numbness the next.
He heard a sound - familiar and comforting when it came from his own hands, terrifying and filling him with a sense of helplessness when it came from across the room. An arrow being set into place, the string being pulled back, a pause as the archer lined up his shot.
Clint wondered where this one would land. There was already one through the palm of each hand, pinning his outstretched arms to the target; one in each shoulder, the left failing its job of acting like a dam to keep his precious blood in place; one now added to the middle of each thigh. Where would this next one strike? Probably somewhere off center, driving through his core in some predetermined location that wouldn't kill him outright, but would make his death slow and agonizingly painful.
He closed his eyes as he heard the tension leave the string, waiting for the signal fire in his body that would alert him to the archer's designated target.
Steve cringed every time the shield on his back scraped against the cement ceiling of the tunnel he and Natasha were crawling through. It was gonna need a serious paint job after this. Natasha ignored the sounds, continuing to lead them on their hands and knees through the sewer entrance.
As soon as Natasha had realized Clint hadn't checked in after being asked to check out the East perimeter, she knew something was wrong. She had taken Steve away from his initial duty of guarding the entrance and made him cover her as she went herself. Upon getting there, she found a grate had been missing from a water pipe large enough to crawl through that hung over the lake, below the grounds of the complex.
Clint probably hadn't seen the attack coming.
She came to a junction in the pipes, one leading left, one leading right, and the one they were currently in pointing straight ahead. Steve's shield scraped the tunnel wall again.
"Quiet," she bit out, and he stopped moving. She listened for a minute, but there was nothing cluing her in to which way they had gone.
"Which way?" Steve asked.
"I...I don't know," she very reluctantly admitted.
"We can call the others to help search," Steve suggested.
She shook her head. "Are you kidding me? None of them can fit down here, and if they blow the roof off that place above, Clint's dead." If he's even still here at all, she added silently.
"We can't find him alone."
She whipped her head around to face him. "I'm not leaving him to die!"
"I'm not either, Natasha." Steve said quietly. They regarded each other for a moment before Steve sighed. "Alright, which way do you want me to go?"
She thought for a moment, accepting the leadership role with a casual grace. "Right," she said. The pipes were probably longer away from the lake. "I'll go forward."
He nodded. "The comms may not work down here, so do your best to stay in touch." She looked at him, but said nothing, and slipped forward into the tunnel. "...right."
He couldn't help tensing his muscles in anticipation, although it did little but make the pain more intense as the arrows that were scattered over his body shifted slightly with the motion.
Clint bit back a whimper.
The arrow released from the bow, but he didn't move. There was no way he'd be able to escape the shot of the arrow, and the archer hadn't aimed to kill...
The arrow thumped into the wood just to the side of his neck, followed by one that buried itself on the opposite side. The noise made his eyes fly open.
Clint resisted the urge to sag forward in relief. The archer was still toying with him, still waiting for him to crack.
He didn't see the next arrow coming. It pierced just above his pelvic bone, sending a sudden shock of renewed, fierce pain through him.
"W-what do you want?" he closed his eyes as he heard himself ask. He'd cracked to the archer's silent ministrations. He was exactly where they wanted him. Clint whimpered again as the device turned, causing his weight to rest on the arrows once again. The blood began to rush back into his head.
As the next silent arrow flew on its path, Clint screamed again. He was symmetrical now, he noticed giddily as a morose laugh tore its way out of his throat. Symmetrical, and dying from his own arrows.
Another sob ripped from him as his blood painted the ground.
"This building isn't locked," Thor informed his team from his scouting position in the Northwest quadrant of the property. "Should I enter?"
He was met with silence for several seconds. Added to the unnerving stillness of this whole facility, it sent a sense of unease up Thor's spine. Something was clearly not right about this place, about this mission, but they couldn't turn back now that they were this close. It had taken S.H.I.E.L.D. two months to track down the base, pinning it as Ground Zero for the source of the attacks around the state. The incidents had seemed so random at first, so different in their execution that the Agency hadn't realized they were all connected. When the clues started coming together, though, Fury was livid. Someone was playing with their victims' greatest strengths and turning them into their greatest weaknesses, essentially stripping a man or woman of their highest accomplishments by literally killing them with their own talents. Even worse, it became obvious that there was more than one person committing the murders, keeping the Avengers spread thin as they tried to bring whatever new, twisted organization this was to a stop. It had seemed like that time could be now when they had finally located the headquarters, could finally figure out what the killers wanted, could thankfully function as a full team again to take the bastards down.
Except there didn't seem to be anyone here. Everything was so deadly quiet upon their entry into the compound that it put everyone on edge. Carefully, they had been ordered to spread out, search the outer perimeters, and slowly convene towards the main building at the center once everything else had been confirmed clear. The Captain headed right into the lion's den, himself, determined to stop anyone who might pose as a threat to the rest of his team from exiting that building.
"Should I enter, Rogers?" Thor repeated, his hand still pressing down on the door's latch.
Concerned about the lack of response, he moved to step away from the building with the intention of heading back to his team. The second he let go of the latch, though, he felt something shift beneath his feet. Before he could react he found himself sliding down a dark tube, his descent hastened by water that pumped out from jet sprays lining the walls. He hit the bottom hard, rolling a little ways through the two feet of water that filled the darkened room he found himself in. Cautiously, he stood and reached for his hammer he had dropped on the way down, his eyes already scanning his new surroundings for any signs of the enemy.
He didn't even get the chance to fully turn around before the first bolt of blood-red lightning slammed into his side, sending him staggering to his knees. The second shot hit him square in the chest, flinging him backwards into the pool, his uncontrollable gasp causing him to inhale some of the water upon his landing. He rolled over onto his elbows, coughing the liquid out of his lungs while trying to figure out his bearings, outstretching one hand to call Mjölner back to him. A third bolt hit his hand, and a fourth cut into his back, sending him face-first back into water.
Pushing himself up again just enough to breath, he tried to filter through his mind how this was happening. He was a god in this world, should not be so easily stalled by some manmade tricks...especially with lightning. It frustrated him, angered him, and with a yell of rage he pushed himself to his feet.
Four blasts hit him all at once from different angles, holding him up with dancing electricity before dropping him bonelessly into the pool. That one actually really hurt, he realized as he tried to remember which way was up, hoping he wasn't so pathetic as to drown in a mere two feet of water. As much as he hated to admit it, he wasn't so sure he could get out of this...whatever it was...without some help.
But his comm remained deathly silent. He was on his own.
Tony sighed as he stood watching the complex from afar, under the cover of trees. A heavily breathing Hulk stood beside him, not smashing anything for the time being. Tony didn't like recon missions unless he was doing it from the comfort of his lab using a computer. Judging by the way the Hulk kept shifting his feet every two seconds, he didn't like them either.
He couldn't believe Thor got to go in and he had to stay out here.
"Whaddya say, buddy, is this ultimate punishment or what? I can see you and I aren't ones for patience. It's our greatest weakness," Tony said seriously. The Hulk just kept panting loudly and shifting, like a racehorse waiting to be let out of the gate. Tony sighed again. He wished Banner hadn't Hulked out at the start of the mission. Maybe then he wouldn't be so bored. "Do you even hear me when I speak?" The Hulk shifted his eyes to look at Tony, but said nothing. Honestly it was a little unnerving and he wished Hulk would go back to looking at the complex.
"Iron Man to anyone!" he said chipperly. No response.
"Hello? Anyone? Do you need backup? Do you want backup?" At that point he was sure he'd have gotten a "shutup" from Natasha or Clint or at least Steve, but there was silence. "We might have a problem here, buddy," he said to the Hulk. The Hulk sensed the change in Tony's tone and if anything, became more restless. "Jarvis, scan for their comm signals,"
"There is no trace of any signals. However, a large amount of interference is coming from around and below the building. It's possible it has been insulated in a way to protect radio communication from entering."
"So either everyone's dead, or underground." Tony really hoped it was the latter. He didn't want to be the one to go back to Nick Fury and tell him all his teammates had died. Though with the Hulk as backup, that might not be as bad as it seemed.
"Hulk, good buddy. How do you feel about 'Hulk Dig'?"
Natasha was more than a little peeved. Other than Clint, no one on this team really understood subtlety. She had argued with Coulson that sending them all after these people was a bad idea, but he had insisted they needed the big guns in case shit went south.
Well, shit had certainly gone south, and she didn't think Stark and Hulk were going to be much help.
She was somewhat surprised, slightly disappointed, and a little scared that whoever this was managed to get the jump on Barton so easily. She hoped she could do more training with him later.
Hoped. She inwardly cringed.
He had to be all right. She didn't like to admit it, but they had formed somewhat of a comfortable bond over the years through the internal bureaucratic bullshit of S.H.I.E.L.D. Plus, she didn't think she could deal with the asshole that was Tony Stark by herself.
Natasha was coming up to a grate above her now. She stilled under it, listening. Only the sound of water dripping from somewhere far away could be heard. She reached into one of the pockets on her belt, pulling out a small mirror on a wire. Cautiously, she lifted it through the grate, looking around to see what was in the room above.
She flinched as a bullet shattered the mirror. Well, that settles that, she thought.
She reached into her belt again, pulling out a small disc. She tossed it through the grate covering, then ducked her head, closed her eyes, and covered her ears.
She could still see the light from the flashbang grenade, but she was rewarded with the sound of a female voice crying out in shock and pain.
She stood up, removing the grate as she did so, and hopped out of the storm drain. The other woman was cringing on the floor, so Natasha ran over and kicked the gun out of her hand. The other woman's hand shot out and she grabbed Natasha's ankle, trying to flip her. Natasha let herself be flipped, landing deftly on the other foot as the other woman stood up, blinking rapidly.
If possible, the ceiling in the right-hand tunnel was even lower than the previous. Steve's shield barely slipped through the narrow shaft and he was positive that if he had glanced back, he would have see a line of red, white, and blue paint behind him.
Distantly, he could hear the sounds of battle. Probably Natasha, he thought as a loud bang echoed through the hallway. Almost every fiber in his being wanted to turn around and assist her, but he had his own mission.
The tunnel was getting smaller as he continued. He could see that it opened up ahead, so he crawled forward inch by inch. His shield was making an awful, soft squealing sound as he moved forward.
The Captain froze as the shield was pressed into his back during a time when he'd paused to catch his breath.
Frantically, he scrambled forward. No. It couldn't be.
The ceiling was getting lower, although thankfully not narrower. He was almost to the end.
He paused and felt the shield dig into his back even more.
The fucking ceiling was closing in on him.
He crawled like he'd been trained to do - fast, low, and close to the ground. His bones were being squeezed together like he was a rag with water being rung out of it.
The Captain wondered if this trap was deliberate, or if he was truly going the right way.
Steve couldn't help screaming as most of his body tumbled out of the chute and onto the ground. The trap had caught his foot, making his bones and joints pop as unyielding pressure bore down on it.
Frantically he kicked at the wall with his free foot. The pain was unbearable, and he let out another howl as something snapped.
Another kick, and he was free.
Steve crashed to the ground, one elbow smacking onto the floor with enough force to leave a residual ache as his shield clattered to a stop a few feet away.
Painfully, he stood. His left foot wouldn't respond to any signals he sent it, and was instead shaking uncontrollably. The room he was in was dark - too dark to see properly, but enough to see the long shadow that was a corridor about ten feet ahead of him.
He took one lopsided hop forward, then stopped.
Someone stood at the other end of the room. A shield was strapped to their back, just like Steve's had been. Their stance was light and balanced like that of a trained fighter.
The Captain dove for his shield and rolled awkwardly on the ground as he snatched it up. He barely had time to swing it up in time to block a kick.
The kick was powerful, driving the Captain's shield back towards his face by several inches.
Steve gulped, swinging the metal in an arch and attempting to roll to his feet.
He nearly fell once more as his injured foot contacted the ground.
The other fighter swung a lightning-fast punch his way. Steve ducked under it and delivered an elbow to the throat. Cautiously, his opponent jumped back, but didn't fall.
Then the Captain heard a scream echo through the room. It sounded like Clint, if the man had been a chain smoker. The archer was pleading with his captor, asking what they wanted with him.
Thor's yell of pain came next, making him flinch and nearly not notice the blow coming towards his face.
They were trying to distract him, he knew. They were trying to make him slip, to keep him occupied with the pain of his comrades.
It was hard to stay focused, though, when a new scream of pain came through the speaker.
Tony was looking frantically around as the Hulk began digging through the grass at their feet. It didn't take him long before they hit solid concrete, and then Hulk began punching it. Hulk roared each time a meaty fist came into contact with the barrier. If no one knew they were here before, they certainly knew it now.
Tony looked down as Hulk's fist broke through the concrete into a room below, only about eight feet under the surface. He began ripping chunks of ceiling away to make a hole big enough for his enormous green body to fit through.
"Good to know you can somewhat follow directions," Tony mumbled.
The Hulk dropped through into the room, and Tony jumped down after him, the sound of his landing echoing loudly in the room around him. Hulk was standing in one place, his shoulders heaving up and down as he looked for something to fight. Tony felt like he had a giant fucking attack dog at his side. He glanced around. There was one door, and also...
"Ah ha!" Tony moved over to the camera set up in the corner of the room. "Good job Hulk, just hang tight for a minute." The Hulk let out a low, loud breath in acknowledgment. Tony reached up behind the camera, and gripped the wire. He gently tore off the wire casing, and the tips of his index and middle finger opened revealing his internal wiring. "Jarvis, hack into this thing, I want to know what's going on around here. The HUD bleeped an affirmative, and Tony waited.
"Sir, I have detected an external..." Jarvis's voice drifted off.
"Jarvis? Hey, Jarvis?" Tony's eyes widened as his HUD flashed red a few times, and then everything went black. He gave it a moment. The system was designed for an immediate reboot after a crash, although whatever had hacked into it to make it crash in the first place...especially through a CCTV connection...
Tony breathed a sigh of relief as the startup screen flashed once on his HUD, but grit his teeth in a panic when it flashed red again and an OS he didn't recognize flashed on his screen.
And then the first wave of electricity tore through his body.
Hulk instinctively moved forward at the sound of Tony's screams, recognizing a threat, something causing damage to one of his allies. The suit. The suit was hurting Tony. The suit needed to come off.
Without giving it any thought he wrapped his large hand around Tony's arm and lifted the smaller man off the ground, shaking him in an attempt to shake him free from the armor.
"Shit," Tony bit out in a hiss. "Hulk...stop!"
The man inside the monster responded to his friend's pained plea, stilling his actions to look curiously at the figure dangling from his grasp. But then his friend attacked him, fired a blast right into his shoulder. Letting out an enraged bellow, Hulk threw his opponent against the opposite wall and stood for a moment, allowing the burn that stretched across his arm and chest to fuel his anger.
"Bruce, I didn't..." Tony tried to stand, stumbled, and fell back to his knees. "It's not me."
Not Tony. His friend wasn't attacking him. Another burst of pain flared in his left leg, and he roared at the outstretched arm of the suit. Still the suit. The suit was a threat to him, was a threat to Tony. He needed to destroy it. To protect himself, to protect Tony, the suit had to die.
Clint did little more than jerk and moan when the next arrow pieced his body. The overwhelming pain already present made it hard to care about one more arrow sticking out of his kneecap.
A second one sliced into the opposite knee, cutting through tendon and bone to pin his limb to the wood.
There must have been some coating on the arrowheads, Clint realized. He never used poison personally – it was a matter of pride to kill his targets with an arrow and not have to rely on poison – but they seemed to want to alter the circumstances.
Something had to give, Clint knew. It was probably going to be him.
His leg spasmed against the wood, dislodging the arrow from where it had been sunken into the spinning wheel. He could hear the archer's low voice speaking to someone else.
"How's it going with Patriot?" the man spoke into an intercom, than paused. "Still hasn't cracked. I'm on it." The voice was surprisingly young for the amount of skill he wielded with the bow.
Clint couldn't feel his legs. Something was wrong. Whatever was in the poison was paralyzing him.
No, it wasn't paralyzing him, he realized. It was cutting off all sensation. It was as if his legs didn't even exist.
Clint's body heaved as it tried to purge itself of the substance, and the Avenger vomited, his blood splattering onto the ground.
Internal bleeding, he realized. When he moved, the arrows in his gut must have shifted.
The archer was approaching him, presumably for a better shot. Clint spat out another mouthful of blood, weakly glaring up at the man.
He couldn't feel anything below his waist anymore. Whatever they'd used on him, it spread fast.
The archer aimed and Clint could see what he was aiming for. The neck. It would be game over.
Barton screamed at the top of his lungs, the hoarse sound tearing out of his mouth. It was enough to startle the archer and make him hesitate to shoot. Too green, kid, Clint thought as he allowed himself to sag against the arrows, playing possum.
The archer approached Clint cautiously. "Sir," he said quietly into his speaker. "He might be dead."
Clint heard some variation of, "Check for a pulse, damn it" from whoever was calling the shots.
The lack of feeling had spread to his chest. He knew that the second the drug reached his heart, he'd probably be out of time to act.
The archer crept closer, his fingers seeking for a pulse in Clint's neck. Clint moved then, ripping one hand away from the wood to slash at the kid's face with curled fingers. The fletching caught between two bones when he pulled at the arrow, yanking it out of the wood, and the blunt end of the arrow stabbed through his tormentor's cheek into his gaping mouth. Blood splattered onto Clint's face, making him flinch.
His tormentor yelled, a hoarse sob of pain, trying to get away, but Clint had shifted his hold to put the man in a type of headlock Tony had used on him just the other day. The lack of sensation was spreading through his hands, making his grasp grow slack as he struggled to keep pressure on the man's throat despite the pain from his body being yanked against the arrows pinning him to the wheel.
The numb feeling spread through him, and his arm dropped to hang limply by his side, blood running off his fingers and dripping onto the floor.
Clint stared blankly at the body that had landed heavily below him as the wheel continued to turn. His arm flopped at the motion, swinging with the arc of the moving target.
He was floating, weightless. Tunnel vision was closing in as he tried to choke for air.
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't fucking breathe.
He fought to remember the motion of the inhale, exhale, but it was denied to him. A low, slightly-keening whine clawed out of his throat.
Maybe he was breathing. Maybe he just didn't know it.
He could hear the sounds of battle in the distance. He could hear the snarls of the Hulk and someone's shout of victory.
None of it affected him though, because he collapsed against the arrows pulling at him, weightless, floating off to peaceful oblivion.
The red bolts of lightning raced over his body like eels. Being in the water only amplified their effect, and had every muscle locking in his body to the point of crippling pain. He couldn't feel Mjölner. Another spasm wracked his body, and he sucked in another lungful of water. His vision was white now. He couldn't see anything.
But he could still feel.
No mortal trick of lightning would down him. He was Lord of his element.
Hand trembling, he reached to the bottom of the pool underneath him. Every movement was an endeavor. His fingertips touched grainy concrete, and he slid them sideways, stopping as another tremor wracked his body. His lungs were burning and his muscles were trembling. But finally, his fingers brushed against the leather strap of his hammer.
Finding a renewed strength, he rolled over, gasping for air and pulling his hammer back to his chest. His captors, not content with his stubbornness, sent another bolt of lightning lacing through the air directly at his face.
But now he was ready.
He held up Mjölner, and the hammer faithfully absorbed the shock. The lightning ran over it, turning from red to a natural bright blue. Thor painfully pulled his legs under him, coughing and standing up slowly. His hair and cape hung heavily down his back. Two more bolts of lightning arced in his direction, but he sidestepped them, absorbing them again with Mjölner.
"You will...not...WIN!" he challenged, before he swung Mjölner around, letting the hammer blast through one of the walls. He fell to his knees again, breathing heavily, trying to stave off the pain.
It was then he noticed what was on the other side of the wall.
"Barton!" he shouted, stumbling to his feet and clumsily climbing through the hole Mjölner had made. The archer was strapped to a wheel, upside down, arrows sticking out of his body and bleeding profusely. Rage ripped through the Asgardian, making him see red as he ripped the arrows out of his friend, catching him, and lowering him to the ground.
The marksman made no noise.
There had been a time when Thor would not have stooped so low as to use his royal garb on a mortal. But no longer.
He frantically tore pieces from his soaking wet cape, tying them around the holes and rips in Barton's hands, shoulders, legs, and torso. That was partly the only medical knowledge he had. His face fell in frustration when he realized he didn't know what to do about the archer's shallow breathing or his unconscious state.
Thor noticed the other body on the floor then, an arrow sticking through the man's face. Well done, Clint Barton. His pride in his mortal friend was countered only by the sickness he felt for what had been done to him. He was afraid to move him. He needed to find the others, to find help.
Natasha loosed a frustrated growl as she launched herself sideways at the wall, twisting her body so her feet would propel her back towards her opponent in a full on, flying grapple. Her arms wrapped around the woman's shoulders, the momentum swinging her legs around her target's torso in preparation to take her to the ground. The woman spun with the attack, using that same momentum to hurl Widow off her. Natasha caught herself, rolling back up into a crouch. She had to admit, even half blinded by the flashbang, the bitch was good.
So far the pacing of the fight had gone too quick for either of them to reach for a weapon, trading kick for block, punch for parry, tackle for defensive roll. Both women were bruising and bleeding, skin cut here and there just from the simple impact of knuckles colliding with soft flesh. Even now, before Widow could even attempt to stand, her opponent was launching another attack. Natasha sprang up and back at the same time, flipping onto her hands and nailing the woman in the face with a solid kick as she tumbled out of reach. It only stunned the bitch for a second, but that's all Natasha needed. She went on the offensive again, throwing one high punch that the woman blocked, one low that was stopped by her opponent's other hand, and finally settling for a knee brought up hard and swift between the legs. The woman let out a grunt of pain, her grip weakening on Natasha's arms which Widow took advantage of by circling them up and out, escaping the hold completely and continuing around to drive both fists into the woman's now unprotected chest. The hit threw her back into a wall, knocking the wind out of her, and Black Widow was on her like a spider on a fly.
Weapons weren't needed after that - Natasha's fists, feet, the heels of her palms, her knees, her head, her elbows - all became the tools used to turn her opponent into a bloody, unconscious heap on the floor. As soon as the woman fell, Widow let out another growling shout that was part triumph, part release of adrenaline, and part honest-to-god anger that the fight was over before she'd gotten all her pent-up rage out of her system.
Breathing heavily, she glared down at the bitch for a few seconds. "A good hit between the legs doesn't only work on guys," she spat. "Any good fighter knows that." With another solid kick to the woman's face just to be sure she'd stay down, Natasha made a sprint for the door. She could hear other sounds now, familiar ones. It sounded like Tony was blasting the shit out of something, and Hulk was doing his rage thing somewhere in that same vicinity. She hoped he was crushing in some asshole's skull.
Heading in the direction of the fight, she stopped at an intersection in the hall where she heard something that made her blood run cold. Coming from the other corridor she could hear Thor's voice, loud and sounding more panicked than she'd ever heard him. He was calling out to them, any of them, pleading for someone to help him.
…No, not him. Hawkeye. Hawkeye was dying.
He was beginning to shake, torn by the sound of the screams. Adrenaline had overwhelmed his system, but it did little to close his ears to the pained roar of the Hulk.
Thor's gasping was layered underneath Tony's shouts, but Natasha...
She was silent.
It both worried and soothed Steve. The others' captures had been heralded by sounds of pain designed to rattle the Captain.
And rattle him they did.
He was slipping, he knew. His shield couldn't dart up fast enough to take the force of the silent attacker's steady blows. Each time a hit contacted the metal, it was as if he'd been smacked by a tank. As another blow nearly sent him back to the ground, the Captain switched from defensive to offensive.
His ears closed to the noise outside. He couldn't afford to be distracted. His aggressor was just too skilled.
Another kick smacked into the shield and the Captain desperately hopped forward, tackling the man. Both of the fighters tumbled to the ground in a painful collision of elbows and armor. They rolled on the ground, grappling fiercely as Steve pummeled the man savagely. Each time the other man tried to pull away, Steve would yank him closer and deliver another powerful blow. If the fighter got some distance between the pair of them, Steve would be at his mercy. He wasn't going to be able to fight standing with a crushed foot. Quickly, the Captain smashed his knee into the other man's stomach and bashed down with his shield.
Steve panted as he rolled away from the man, one hand going down to feel the mess that was his foot.
The man wasn't quite unconscious, the Captain noticed. He raised his shield for another lighting fast strike, but the man started laughing. "Barton's dead," he wheezed. "You failed."
Steve bashed down savagely with the shield, gritting his teeth. Sound snapped back into his awareness as he heard Thor's frantic calls – since when was Thor ever frantic?– for help. Steve tiredly wiped his face and looked around for something he could use as a cane.
He hopped determinately, trying to avoid touching his foot to the ground.
There was no warning of the impending attack. There was only the sound of something crashing, and he barely had time to whirl before something large, metallic, and heavy crashed into his chest, sending him flying across the room.
Tony lay dazed, his body hurting in places that he hadn't even been aware were part of the human anatomy. Blood was running down the left side of his face, blinding him in that eye, and whenever the suit lifted his right arm to fire, he could feel bone grind against bone in at least two different places. What was worse was the fact that he couldn't feel his left leg at all from the knee down, the armor dented in horribly from where the Hulk had stomped on it. For the past ten minutes he had been as helpless as a kitten in the jaws of a rabid rottweiler...if the kitten were possessed by a robotic suit that kept doing idiotic things like shooting at said rottweiler, both injuring it and pissing it off more in the process...
"Gah, Tony! Get...get up."
Sure enough, the good ol' Cap appeared from somewhere beneath him, and he couldn't help but feel relieved. Rogers would fix this. Rogers always fixed it.
"Tony, we need to move."
He didn't want to move. He was done. He could just lie there and let Steve handle everything for the rest of forever. Except the suit apparently disagreed. He felt his shattered arm being lifted again, and he cried out in agony at the action. Alarm passed through him as he realized the suit's new target was Steve - superhuman, yes, but able to withstand such a direct shot at so close a range? Seeing a hole being blasted right through his friend's middle was not something Stark wanted to have in his nightmares.
"Steve...run!" he barely managed to shout, making sure he was loud enough to be heard through the helmet.
Rogers sat there looking confused and afraid at the same time, a bit like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming military tank. Tony shut his eyes, knowing Steve hadn't moved fast enough, knowing he had just become responsible for killing one of his friends. Not just a friend, but the leader of the fucking Avengers.
He heard Steve scream:
Heard the shot fire, followed by a grunt.
Felt an unbidden tear roll down his face to mingle with the blood at the sound of something falling to the ground.
Became aware of a sense of weightlessness as he was once again knocked through the air, landing hard and sliding several feet across the floor, coming to a violent stop against a stone support column.
Tried to catch his breath as he listened to another bellow emerge from Banner, but his chest hurt too bad to comply.
Listened to the sound of electricity sizzling and popping close by, really close by, and realized that the last impact had finally rendered his suit completely malfunctional.
Opened his eyes as he felt himself being rolled gently away from the column by someone oblivious to the shocks that were coming off the broken suit in waves.
Saw the Hulk towering over him, breathing heavily, but no longer trying to kill him; the green features marred with heavy burns and deep gashes that were already starting to close up, and sporting a particularly nasty new wound on his lower right side.
Heard someone say, "Get that off him, carefully."
Choked on a laugh as he realized that son of a bitch Rogers was still alive.
Watched the world go black as relief washed over him, and cursed himself for coming down into a hole to save his teammates only to wind up being used to try to kill them.
He should've stayed up on the fucking hill doing recon.
She rounded a corner at top speed, ignoring the sound of shattering concrete that she could hear somewhere behind her. Thor was cradling Clint's limp form. He looked up at her, an uncertainty in his eyes that was unnerving and out of place on the Asgardian. She fell to her knees beside Clint, inspecting the damage. Blood ran down Clint's chin and the paleness of his skin terrified her. She held up one of the cloth strips over his shoulder, the cloth already soaked with blood. The jagged edges spoke volumes, and she cast a glance at the bloody arrows on the floor as she tightened the makeshift bandages again. She could already feel both of his knees were not in the correct position and the bones had been shifted in at least one of his hands.
"Did you pull out the arrows?" She asked, voice low.
Thor hesitated. "I...yes."
She sighed loudly, feeling Clint's pulse. "Never do that," she said simply. The pulse was far too fast and thready, and she could hear Clint struggling for breath. She cursed, not bothering to keep the worry out of her voice. She gently pressed down on each quadrant in his abdomen, pulling her fingers back quickly when she felt something give near the arrow wound over his hip. She clenched her jaw tightly. Internal bleeding...oh Clint...
"I am...truly sorry," Thor tried.
"Save it. Can you get out of here? With him?" Clint's breathing hitched again and her heart stopped as she waited a few seconds before it started again, thin and shallow. She let out the breath she had been holding. It wasn't Thor's fault he had almost no medical knowledge. Also that Asgardians usually didn't stay injured for long. But still, she was doing her best not to be angry at him.
Thor nodded, standing up. He hurried back through the hole in the wall, summoning Mjolnir as he went. He caught sight of the shaft he had initially fell down. Roaring, he threw the hammer at it, widening the entrance. He could just catch daylight at the top. He ran back to Clint and Natasha, but paused as he saw Natasha leaning over Clint, breathing for him. After two breaths, he inhaled a shuttering breath on his own. There were tears in her eyes and Clint's own blood on her lips. "There's a S.H.I.E.L.D. force stationed two miles North of here. When you get there, tell them he's been poisoned-" she gave him an offending arrow for a sample "-and he's having trouble breathing on his own, and bleeding internally. You have to hurry." She hated the way her shaky voice betrayed her emotions.
Thor nodded, gently taking Clint in his arms. "What will you do?"
"...Mutilate the bastards that did this."
Steve coughed weakly as he tried to reassess his physical state.
The Hulk's use of Tony as a projectile had cracked at least two ribs, he noticed, as he sat up weakly. Doctor Banner's surprising protection of Steve (which involved stepping on him to block the blow from Tony's repulsor beam) had probably cracked at least two more.
This was definitely not Steve's day. He didn't even want to think about his crushed foot. With his luck, it would heal incorrectly and have to be rebroken.
He winced, and instantly felt guilty for worrying about himself.
"Barton's dead. You failed."
The words echoed in his head and he was forced to shudder quietly for a moment, trying to wrap his mind around the implications of that statement.
Hawkeye couldn't be dead. He wasn't allowed to be dead. Steve wasn't going to lose another friend, not like this. But he couldn't think about that right now.
First, he had to take care of Tony, who was alarmingly silent.
Steve tried to sit up, and nearly pitched forward as his head swam. His vision blurred and darkened, forcing him to sit back down.
"Get that off him, carefully," he told the Hulk, who took a small pace forward. Steve could practically see the Hulk's brain processing the order.
He didn't have time for this. Tony didn't have time for this, and nor did Barton.
Carefully, Steve sat up, his shaking limbs barely allowing him to remain focused. First priority: Stark.
He managed to brace himself up on a trembling arm and painfully rose to his feet, limping around the Hulk who was tearing off Stark's suit. Pieces of Tony's armor had been scattered across the room, and Steve impatiently stepped in front of the Hulk to try to help remove another piece of Tony's malfunctioning suit.
Leaning down was nearly too much for him, he realized. He must have achieved a concussion at some point, because staying on his feet was proving to be nearly too difficult for him.
He opened his eyes, not sure when he had ended on the ground. A nearby groan drew his attention back to Tony and the sparking armor, and Steve forcibly told his reluctant body to move.
The Captain touched the armor with one hesitant finger and snatched his arm back as a bolt of lightning seared through him.
"Alright, Tony," he said softly. "I'm about to do something that'll probably make you mad, but I think it'll stop the suit, okay? This might hurt a little…"
Fury was livid.
He paced back and forth around the communication hub, hovering over his employees with all the intensity of a hawk waiting for something to move, something to target.
"What the hell am I paying you people for? Where the hell is my GODDAMN TEAM?"
Everyone flinched and worked harder to bring up any sort of connection to the missing Avengers. Fury was a papa bear whose cubs had just vanished off the face of the Earth, and if they didn't find something soon, his wrath would fall on them.
Coulson. The communication technicians breathed out a sigh of relief. They knew that tone in his voice. He was bringing news, and any news was better than the none they had come up with so far.
"Tell me you have something, Phil." It came out of Fury's mouth as a demand.
"Sir, I just got word from my ground force. They have Thor, sir. He's been...roughed up, to put it mildly, but should make a full recovery."
Fury picked up on a slight hesitation in Coulson's expression. "Anybody else?" he prompted heatedly.
"They...may or may not have Hawkeye," Phil admitted, his eyes dropping down along with his voice, then remembered to add, "sir."
Brow furling in agitation, Fury took a step closer to his agent, invading his personal space. "What the hell does that mean, Phil? Do they have him or don't they?"
Coulson looked up and met his gaze, seemingly unfazed by the intimidating man's close proximity. "Undetermined. Thor brought him in. Technically he was...well, to phrase it medically, he was D.O.A., sir."
The words sunk in and Fury placed a hand over his eyes, letting his head droop. The anger seemed to fizzle out of him, his voice quiet when he spoke next. "And now?"
"Fighting the odds, as usual." Phil smiled slightly at that. "The medics tell me he shouldn't be alive at all, but he seems to have taken it upon himself to prove them wrong."
The comment did its job to cut the tension. Fury chuckled, dropping his hand away from his face. "Stubborn S.O.B." Straightening up, his rigid, commanding aura returned with a vengeance. "Get me a line to that post; I want to talk to Thor. We're going to find out what happened, and then we're gonna go after whoever the fuck made it happen. I'm getting my goddamn team back."
Tony's body had begun to twitch as shock after shock of electricity rolled through him as his suit deteriorated. The Captain glanced at the Hulk, who was standing docile to the side.
He could only hope Dr. Banner wouldn't kill him for this.
"Tony," Steve said urgently. "Look at me. That's an order."
"Not a soldier," Tony slurred as his eyes opened a crack. Steve smiled with relief.
"Did you hear what I told you? This is going to hurt," he warned once again as Tony's limbs locked in a futile effort to protect his body from his own suit.
"Can't be much worse than this," Tony chuckled, then his eyes widened as Steve edged closer. "Wait, you're not going to-"
Steve ignored him. He had to concentrate, treat it as nothing more than a quick patch in the field to help a comrade. It would have to just be like any routine job, fast and smooth.
Something field dressings normally weren't.
Tony's body seized as another current of electricity rolled through him. His broken arm hung limply at his side as he gasped for air, the sound making the Captain hesitate.
Watch his teammate be electrocuted to death, or take the chance of killing him. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't.
He couldn't move Tony until the suit's power was cut. Jarvis had ceased to respond to Tony's commands long ago, and there was no other way to cut the power that the soldier knew of.
He was delaying.
Swiftly he lunged forward, his hand seeking the glowing arc no longer concealed by Tony's suit. "Try not to scream," he grunted. He didn't want the Hulk to tear him apart.
His own body jolted as he contacted the overloading arc reactor. Steve gritted his teeth as he pulled at it, ignoring Tony's howl of pain.
The Hulk shifted behind him and Steve flinched.
What was it Clint always said about computers? After unplugging it, wait a few seconds before putting the cord back in the socket.
He wasn't sure how long it would take for Tony to go into cardiac arrest. He had to hurry.
Now that the electricity was no longer rolling periodically through his body, Tony's breaths came in short huffs as he embraced newfound oxygen. His shuddering body was beginning to calm.
Steve just hoped it wouldn't start up again when he "replugged" Tony.
The Captain began to place the arc reactor back in Tony's chest, when Stark gave a small whimper. Steve hastily apologized, realizing he'd bumped Tony's mangled arm.
The keyed-up, overstressed Hulk gave a roar and slammed Steve away from Tony, probably thinking he'd gone to...the dark side as Tony had quoted in the past. He collided with the wall, producing a painful smack. The Hulk roared once again and Steve lunged after the arc power source as it bounced away.
"Natasha! Thor!" he yelled frantically as he snatched up the object, cursing as his foot brushed the ground.
After Thor left, she gave herself a moment for composure. Clint would make it. He had to. But the holes in his body, the poison, his mangled joints...
It was an image she knew she could never purge from her memory.
And even if she could, she wouldn't. She needed that fuel.
She was torn out of her thoughts by some shouts and screams, and the Hulk roaring. She got to her feet, running in the direction of the sounds. The hallway she found herself in had gaping holes in either side, but the roars were coming from the one on her right. She heard Steve's pained and panicked shout. "Natasha! Thor!"
She climbed through the broken wall, hesitating as she saw Tony on the ground, half of his armor off, face covered in blood, arm dangling at his side, limp, and gasping for air. And his arc reactor...
...was rolling across the floor, fifteen feet away, being chased by a hobbling Steve, who was being chased by a furious Hulk.
Ignoring Tony for the moment, she sprinted over to insert herself between the Hulk and the Captain. Not one of the smartest moves she had ever made. She reached her hands over her head. "Bruce, please!" she said in a sincere, and what she hoped was calming, tone. "Please! Don't hurt him." Her body tensed automatically in expectation of an attack that would hit her like an 18-wheeler. But the Hulk looked from her to Steve then back to her, before she could see acceptance cross his face, clear as day. "Thank you," she said. She turned to Steve who was clutching his ribs in pain, and dragging a mangled foot behind him. Cuts covered his face, and some deep gashes on his arms and chest were slowly staining his blue suit red.
"Tony," he gasped. He fell to his knees, and she dashed over to the rolling arc reactor, snatching it up and returning to Iron Man's side.
Tony had his teeth clenched so tightly together, she could see his jaw muscles shaking, made worse by his far too pale skin. She fumbled for the wires sticking out of the hole in his chest, cursing her weakness. She had just watched one teammate almost die, she wasn't going to let it happen to another. She attached the wires, shocking herself a little, but jammed the arc reactor back into Tony's chest. Stark himself let out a pained "Yow-how!" before his body fell back against the rubble and he was sucking in air like a dying man, minute tremors running down his body. His forehead was drenched with sweat.
"Is he...is he being shocked..." Steve asked weakly from across the room. The man was doing his best to crawl towards them, but he had only managed a few shuffles before he tipped sideways and landed on the floor with a pained grunt.
Natasha stood up to help him, but surprisingly the pacified Hulk was there first, and gently picked up the Captain before walking him over to Tony and Natasha and laying him down. He winced openly.
Natasha looked back at Tony, who's eyes were half closed, but he was still sucking down oxygen loudly, though with pained whimpers every second or third time. Hulk stood over his charges, breathing loudly.
"What happened to you?" she asked Steve.
"Where's...Thor...and Clint?" he asked instead.
Natasha didn't answer, didn't want to say the words out loud. Clint was probably dead, should be dead. It was a two mile journey, and with him bleeding like that and barely able to breathe...
She let her eyes rove over her teammates' injuries - Steve, the strongest man she knew, so beaten and hurt that he couldn't even stand; Tony, the proud, cocky smartass, reduced to a mangled, whimpering shell of himself; and even Hulk had some areas of flesh that were slightly discolored, places that were finishing their natural regeneration. She thought about where she felt pain in her own body, wondering what she looked like to them - she would have a darkening bruise across her nose, definitely one black eye, probably two. Smaller cuts and abrasions revealed themselves beneath the several small tears in her suit, darkening it in places with drying blood on her arms, legs, chest, stomach. She wouldn't show them the bruising she could feel forming on her torso, wouldn't mention one thing about the exasperating soreness and fatigue that was threatening to drain her of her anger, her fuel to fight. She didn't have a right to. Looking at her friends, all broken, one probably dead, she knew she had gotten off easy.
"Natasha." God, Steve's voice sounded so weak, almost desperate. She couldn't stand hearing him like that. "Thor...Clint...Where are they?"
She got to her feet, feeling her own rage surge through her again. Hulk clearly felt it in her, fed off it, his muscles tensing with the need to bring hell down on whoever had hurt his family. Natasha met his eyes, allowing her seething glare to amp him up even more.
"Bring them to the surface and lay them out where S.H.I.E.L.D. can see them. After that, come find me. We're tearing this place to the ground."
She spun on her heel and stormed back out into the hall, ignoring Steve's protests, his pleading questions about their two missing teammates, and focused on Hulk's bellowing release of his pent-up need to destroy. She allowed a wicked smirk to cross her features as she made her way back to where she had left that bitch bleeding on the ground. She'd have to take her alive, couldn't afford to kill her, to risk losing a lead to whoever was responsible for setting them up; but that didn't mean she'd have to show the woman mercy.
Another of Hulk's enraged yells echoed off the walls.
No. There would be no mercy.
Thor watched as the medics swarmed over Clint like ants. A mask was placed over his face, and Thor clenched his jaw as needles were pushed into the archer's skin, taking samples, pumping fluids.
"Sir," a tentative voice spoke up from next to him. He looked down to see a man holding a small, black communication device up to him. "Nick Fury would like to speak with you. Sir." He took the device out of the agent's hand, holding it tentatively up to his ear.
"Nick Fury," he spoke.
"Thor. Wanna tell me what happened?"
Thor sighed, as Clint was moved into a helicopter and hidden from view. "It was a trap. A clever one. Meant to disperse and distract us. Clint Barton was..." He swallowed angrily. "...he was strapped to a device, held there with arrows through his limbs. It seemed like whoever was doing it continued to shoot him, using poisoned arrows as well." Thor was outwardly seething, and the agent who had handed him the phone backed away quickly.
Fury was silent for a moment. "And you?"
Thor gritted his teeth in frustration, not wanting to talk about this particular part. "I was...grounded by lightning in a pool...but after a time I was able to overcome it. It was then I found Hawkeye. Black Widow then found us."
"What was her condition and the others'?"
"She had many visible bruises, but I didn't see anything else. I do not know about the others. She instructed me to fly Hawkeye to safety. He stopped breathing along the way." Thor remembered the heart-stopping moment with a fear he had only known a few times.
Fury interrupted his thoughts. "Thank you, Thor. From what my agents tell me you saved his life. But I need you to go back now, and to take those agents with you. There's no point in stealth anymore." There was a pause. "And when you get there, I want you to bring my wrath down on whoEVER was responsible for this. Do I make myself clear?"
Thor narrowed his eyes. "It will be done."
"I can do this all day," Natasha hissed into her victim's ear as she slammed her back against the wall again. The woman coughed, her breath coming in gurgling wheezes as the blood from her busted face pooled in her mouth. "How…many?"
"Four," the woman choked out, sending a crimson river dribbling down her chin.
"Counting you?" Natasha clarified.
The woman nodded. Done for now with the questions, Widow drove her fist hard into the assassin's stomach, then brought her elbow down between the exposed shoulder blades as the woman doubled over. She crumpled to the ground, unconscious again, and Natasha reluctantly turned the woman's head so she wouldn't drown in her own blood.
Four. The woman was one, the man who lay dead in the room where Clint...
She shook her head of the mental image. That left only two unaccounted for. Two in the entire fucking compound. How the hell did they get bested by four people, anyway? Were they that fucking weak? The two already accounted for weren't even super beings. They were peons, normal people that bled and broke as easily as anyone else on the goddamn planet. How could they possibly be responsible for so thoroughly taking down a team consisting of a god, an iron genius, a raging beast, and a man so physically enhanced that he could survive fifty years buried in ice?
It was just like all the other attacks they had been debriefed on, something they should've been prepared for. The mastermind behind it all had played their strengths against them, just like with all the other victims. They should've seen it coming, shouldn't have been so cocky to think that they'd be immune to it. It riled her to think they could be so careless.
Something crashed nearby, bringing her thoughts back to the here and now. Hulk had apparently returned below ground to do his worst, and she needed to move fast if she had any hopes of gathering any helpful evidence before he destroyed it all. Running first back to the room where she'd found Thor and Clint, she averted her eyes from the target wheel and went straight to the dead man. She pried Clint's bow from the clenched fingers, and jerked the quiver from off the body's shoulders. If Barton was dead, the least she could do was bury him with his beloved weapons.
Checking over the body for any potentially useful information, and scanning the room for anything that might need saving, she found nothing of value and moved back out into the hall where she spotted Hulk.
"Hey!" she called. "The wheel in here - I don't ever want to see it again."
The monster sneered and stalked towards her, glad to have something in particular to mutilate. She watched in satisfaction as he ripped the wheel off its axis and hurled it like a frisbee into the wall, where it splintered and shattered. Leaving Hulk to finish it off, she moved on to the next room, determined to track down the other two soon-to-be-dead men responsible for the condition her team was left in. If one of them happened to be the guy in charge of everything, that just might brighten up her day.
Steve felt the stretcher rock under him and he tried to focus his thoughts.
Something had been off about the room before Hulk had dragged him out of it. Something had slipped past his attention when he was wounded.
The only problem was that he couldn't recall what.
The medics that had arrived soon after the Hulk had placed him outside had disregarded his frantic words. He didn't blame him, he probably wasn't making much sense.
Steve did his best to piece together the scenes from before, twisting each detail and highlighting specific moments in his mind as he analyzed the events. He'd been trained to do this (relatively) recently. He could remember bashing his attacker with his shield and Tony being lobbed into him. He could remember the moment where he woke up on the ground under the Iron Man suit. He could remember Natasha coming into the room to see Tony and Steve in relative states of distress with the Hulk on another rampage.
That was it. There was one person missing from the scene.
His attacker had disappeared.
Steve tried to sit up and quailed under his irritated medic's glare, but then the man got distracted by his phone, and Steve could hear the voice of a very pissed-off Nick Fury echoing through the speaker. It was the small window of opportunity he needed, he realized as the man turned away to counter something Fury had snarled. Quickly, compartmentalizing his pain like he'd done so few times in the past, he flipped himself off the stretcher and let himself roll into the ground, his journey back down to the base helped by the steep incline of the hill he found himself at the top of.
His foot throbbed as he found he couldn't stop. The pain meds he'd been quickly dosed with were clouding his mind, he realized. He should have just told the medic, and by extension, Fury, about the missing man.
The medic shouted in anger and the Captain winced, feeling a surge of pity for the guy. The pair of them would both be lucky if they weren't sent to some frozen fortress in Siberia during the winter.
He definitely should have told Fury about the missing man.
The Captain yelled in an attempt to get the medic's attention from the bottom of the incline. No answer was forthcoming, and the Captain knew that unless he dragged himself up the slope, his injured foot wouldn't be able to cope the climb. Resolutely, he turned to face the building he'd nearly rolled into. Shit. He had to go back in, had to warn Natasha.
He had to hope she didn't decide to explode the entire structure with him in it.
Quickly Rogers cast an eye over his location. He wouldn't be able to do much without a crutch to help him stand. The area around him was relatively clear and nothing that would serve as a makeshift crutch was in sight.
He'd have to look more when he was inside the wretched building.
Hop. Hiss as foot contacted the ground. Drag forward a foot. Repeat process.
The Captain made his way back into the hellhole.
Thor had flown around the perimeter as the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were attending to Tony and Steve. He had seen them immediately, bright contrasts against the green grass and hole into the Earth they were in. He had ignored them for the time being, even though his heart seethed at the seeming abandonment. But he had to make sure the rest of the outside was safe, first. He would not be responsible for the death of more Midgardians.
He flew back around to the group, teeth clenched as he saw Tony Stark laid out on a mobile bed. He had half his armor missing, his face was caked with blood, his eyes were only half open, his left leg looked crushed, and S.H.I.E.L.D. technicians were currently trying to pry the armor loose from around his arm. He was eerily still the whole time.
Something occurred to Thor then. He grabbed one of the agents by the shoulder who was running by him. "Where is Steve Rogers?" He fought to keep a calm tone.
"I...he..." the agent gulped. "Sir, he ran back into the building, Sir."
"Was he not injured?" Thor found that hard to believe, doubting Steve would have placed himself on the lawn with an injured Tony while the Hulk and Natasha were still inside.
"He, well...his foot was broken, and probably some ribs, so we put him on an IV...but he rolled off the stretcher, down the hill and back inside." The agent pointed. "We sent a squad after him." Thor followed his finger, pointing to where six armored agents were ready to run into the building.
"That will not be enough, and they are in danger of being smashed by the Hulk. Call them back!" The last command was shouted as Thor rose into the air. "I will take care of it. You are to remain here until an Avenger tells you that you may enter." The agent gulped and nodded as Thor flew towards the building.
Natasha continued to let Hulk smash up rooms in her wake. She hadn't found what she was looking for yet, anyway. She continued moving past empty rooms, checking each one for other doors. But no people, no equipment, and certainly nothing that pointed to a central operations center was present. She checked her gun again. She could tell by the weight she had five bullets left in this clip, but she had others. She wasn't concerned about that. She could always kill someone with her hands easily enough.
The Hulk stomped behind her into one of the empty rooms she had just vacated, savagely punching walls in.
She looked into another room and was about to move on, when she turned back to see what had caught her eye subconsciously. A series of pipes led from the floor straight up into the ceiling. It was strange, because none of the other rooms had had that. She moved over for a closer look, gently laying Clint's bow and quiver to the floor, and tapped on one of the pipes. A solid thunk came from it. So not hollow. She pulled on one experimentally, and felt a shimmer of satisfaction as the hidden door inched open. Her satisfaction was short lived, however, as something metal clanged her hard in the back of the head.
"NOOOOOO!" Steve yelled as he saw Natasha crumble to the ground.
Without thinking, he reached back for his shield, ready to toss it at the opponent he had failed to subdue earlier. His weapon wasn't there. In fact, he couldn't even remember where he'd lost it.
"Are you missing your toy?" the other man sneered, before letting his own shield fly at the Captain.
I'm sorry, Steve thought, cursing his current weakness as he simply shut his eyes, ready to take that last hit.
It didn't come.
A hand was suddenly there, wrapping around his arm and supporting some of his weight. "You have fought enough," a proud voice said.
When he opened his eyes again, he couldn't help the relief he felt at seeing the god by his side, facing off with the man Steve couldn't beat. The shield that had been thrown now lay discarded in a corner, out of the enemy's reach; and Thor's hammer was crackling with lightening.
"Stay here. I will finish this."
As Steve was lowered gently to the ground, the thought occurred to him that he couldn't remember the last time he had heard his friend sound so angry. Part of him almost wanted to feel sorry for the other guy, but seeing Natasha's still form against the wall, feeling his own pain, thinking about Tony who looked half dead, and hearing that man's voice echoing in his head, telling him Clint was gone, he found himself mentally urging on the god's wrath. He felt a sick sort of satisfaction when Thor let out an impressive bellow, calling more lighting towards him before releasing it in one ball of pure blue rage towards his enemy. With his shield gone, there was nothing the guy could do but hold up his arms in a weak attempt at protecting himself. He ended up being thrown back against the wall, lightening dancing around his body as he fell to the ground.
"Did you kill him?" Rogers asked quietly.
"Does it matter if I did?" Thor responded dryly.
Looking up at the Asgardian, Steve took in the little cuts and burns all over Thor's flesh, wondering where they'd come from. He shook his head. "No. I just want to make sure he won't come after us again."
"He won't," Thor answered, no sign of doubt in his tone. He moved over to Natasha then, and knelt down to run a hand very carefully through her hair. It came up with red smeared across his fingers.
Steve's face fell. "Is she...?"
"She's alive." He leaned over her closer, placing a hand on her shoulder. She moaned a little bit, stirring at his touch.
"Who fuckin' hit me?" she slurred. "...'ll kill the fucker..."
Thor laughed. "He is no longer of concern." He helped her sit up, but it didn't look like she'd be getting to her feet any time soon. Her eyes roved across the room, settling on Steve for a second before quickly moving on to see the shield, and the man in the corner who had smoke rising off his clothes.
"That's three," she mumbled. At their confused looks, she turned and gazed at the door she had barely begun to open. "There's one more guy."
Hulk entered the room then, finished with destroying the last one. For a second he got an almost comical look on his face at the realization that he'd missed out on his chance at crushing down a member of the enemy faction, yet again.
Steve let out a breathy laugh. "Help me up. We'll see if there's someone behind door number three."
As Hulk did as requested, Thor lifted Natasha into his arms to move her away from whatever threat might be inside the secret room. Time seemed to stop for everyone as she asked almost too quietly to hear. "Clint. Did he...?"
"Barton is a true warrior. He will not give up so easily," Thor answered, doing his best to give her a reassuring smile.
Steve would've gone down again had Hulk not been there to hold him up. Hawkeye was still alive. The weight being lifted off his shoulders at the news made him feel lightheaded, as if the grief and guilt had been the only things keeping him on the ground.
Shaking off the sensation, he brought himself back to the issue at hand. "The door," he practically whispered, more as a reminder to himself than to anyone else.
Natasha said there was still one more enemy unaccounted for. With a nod to Thor who had carefully set Natasha down and moved up beside him, and feeling the Hulk's muscles tense in anticipation, Steve reached for the handle and pulled.
The room was empty, Steve realized as he stared dumbly at the console housing surveillance screens showing different areas of the base, and at the various buttons and levers that controlled god-knew-what. Behind him, he heard Natasha give out a curse in slurred Russian as she presumably peered past him into the control room.
"Stay," he told her firmly, then hesitated. The room showed signs that things had been hastily packed together as the man who had taunted Steve with his teammates' screams must've realized he was cornered. He must have just fled, as the door at the other end was still swinging shut. "You have to be kidding me," he muttered.
Steve hesitated again - Thor and Hulk were their best fighters, and neither of them could be tasked with staying with an injured Natasha or carrying her. Steve wanted to go forward, to fight the bastards that had crippled his team, but his sense of duty kept him from moving on. He couldn't leave her defenseless against anyone that might wander in. "You two go on ahead," he said, stepping to the side to allow Thor and the Hulk to pass him by. "I'll stay with Natasha in case he doubles back."
Thor hesitated, his eyes going to Natasha as he loitered.
"Go!" Steve snapped to the Asgardian. The Hulk had needed no encouragement and was already tearing out of the room. "We'll be fine," Rogers added as he quirked a smile.
Thor hefted his hammer and nodded, "Stay safe," he said, then followed the Hulk.
Steve turned to Natasha, who looked pissed."Go," she growled, but Steve shook his head.
"I'm not leaving you," he answered. "Seeing double isn't going to be useful in fighting him off if that guy comes back."
Natasha said something else in Russian, then shook her head and continued in English. "I'll be fine, Steve. Do you expect to fight someone off with one foot?"
The blow hit home, and Steve winced, but he didn't bother defending himself. At the very least, he could jump on the guy and let Natasha strangle him to death or something.
The Black Widow eyed him shrewdly, and Rogers winced. He knew he wasn't going to stand a chance against that look, and even worse, she knew it as well.
"What if we both go?" she said, making him sigh. Why couldn't Natasha be like most other concussed beings, and be quiet and unintelligible? "We can follow behind Thor and Banner in case they need assistance."
Right. Because that had always worked in the past. Case in point: Stark following them into the building and getting pulverized for his troubles.
Then Steve heard his mouth say, "Fine," and he winced. Natasha was smiling, if her expression could be called that. "But on one condition," he added immediately, and her smile faltered. "You need to share your weapon stash."
Natasha looked a little sulky, but conceded without much grumbling. In short order three grenades, a handgun, and what looked like a blowgun and two poisoned darts were piled in front of him. Steve raised an eyebrow as he looked at Natasha, wondering where she hid everything, but decided it was better not to ask.
Natasha still looked unsteady on her feet, but Steve knew there was no stopping her now. Rather like a massive hurricane, she would tear apart everything in her path until she collapsed. The Black Widow offered Steve a hand up, and he took it after he gathered the weapons together. The grenades were easy enough to shove in his pants, he slipped the blowgun up his sleeve, and gingerly clenched the gun in his teeth as he was raised to his foot. Almost immediately he spat it into his hand.
The Black Widow took a step forward and almost fell, making a laugh tear out of Steve. Who were they kidding? They could barely stand. Wordlessly, he allowed her to reluctantly clamp a hand around his waist despite the pain it caused in his ribs, and he threw his arm over her shoulder.
He glanced sideways to see her teeth clenched in a grimace of anger. He almost hoped that the fourth man would lead Thor and the Hulk on a merry-go-round chase so they'd get their own shot at him.
The pair limped/hopped/dragged their way to the door. Just as they were reaching for it, it was flung open and a panting body crashed into the two of them.
Steve nearly shot himself in his good foot as he scrambled to keep both Natasha and himself from crashing to the ground as the fugitive bounced off of them and tried to escape.
Maybe today was a lucky day after all.
"STOP!" Steve shouted, and pulled the trigger on the gun. The shot hit the doorframe as the man was just reaching it, the bullet ricocheting off the stone and tunneling itself into the guy's arm.
"Ahhh! Shit!" the guy screamed out as he clenched one hand over the wound and stumbled to the ground. Natasha got a better grip around Steve's waist to keep him steady so he could focus on holding the gun.
"Nice shot," she commented.
"It was an accident," he whispered back.
She smiled at him. "I know."
A sound like an approaching herd of angry elephants filled the room, and Steve's face took on a look of alarm. "Hulk's coming. We need to get this guy out of here."
"I say let him get what he deserves," Natasha spat.
Steve looked at the guy - young, skinny, glasses, actually crying as he pulled a shaking hand away from his wound. He was just a kid, really. Death by Hulk didn't seem right. He could face justice another way.
The Hulk roared from somewhere close by, making the kid look up with widening eyes. "Oh god, please don't let that monster kill me," he begged.
Shaking his head, Steve limped forward with Natasha's help. "Get up," he ordered, still keeping the gun trained on the guy's head.
The kid did as told, sniffling as he got to his feet. "Please, I'm just the tech. They made me...they made me do it. Honest, that guy," he pointed to the body of the dark Captain, "he threatened to kill me. I was just following orders."
"Fine, whatever, just walk before the Hulk gets in here. He sees you, I won't be able to stop him." Steve gestured with the gun towards the doorway.
"Okay, okay." The kid turned and walked ahead down the hall a ways, then stopped when he reached an intersection.
"Hey, keep moving," Natasha ordered from her place beside Steve.
The kid let out an eerie little laugh just before an explosion rocked the compound from the room they had just escaped, and the ground bucked beneath their feet, tossing Steve and Natasha to the floor. Moving in a blur, the tech rushed at the nearest opponent - Natasha, who looked stunned by both her concussion and the too-sudden tilting of the world around her - and Steve saw a flash of silver. The gun out of reach, he hurled himself in front of her without thinking, and felt a blinding sting as something sunk into his abdomen. He landed hard on top of her, finding it hard to catch his breath around the foreign body lodged inside him.
It was worse when the kid yanked it out.
Steve let out a pained scream, unaware as his attacker raised the blade again, ready to plunge it into a more fatal part of his body. But the guy never got the chance. Steve's vision dimmed as a large green hand swept by, then disappeared, taking the kid away with it. There was a fully enraged roar, followed by a shriek of pure terror. Something hit a wall, a gurgled, coughing plea reached his ears, the sound of concrete cracking was almost deafening, and then there was nothing.
"Steve? Oh god, Steve?"
Natasha had managed to partially worm out from underneath him, and was cradling his head in her lap.
"THOR!" she screamed back down the hall, hoping the Asgardian had gotten through the explosion.
Steve felt his eyes slipping shut, and then Natasha was slapping him. "Do not do this to me, you asshole. I already watched Clint damn near bleed out in front of me today. I'm not doing it again."
He heard fabric tear - his or hers, he couldn't tell - and then there was a sudden pressure on his wound. It hurt. It hurt a lot. He cried out in pain, then watched the world go dark, listening as Natasha cursed at him between screaming Thor's name again and again.
It was his own fault, really. He shouldn't have fallen for the ruse. He just cared too damn much - his greatest strength, and his greatest weakness. His enemy had known it, and because of that, this time the villain had won.
He could barely feel it, but something was stabbing into his cheek, making him try to shift away. He attempted a groan, but no noise came past his lips. Another poke made him angrily open his eyes a crack.
A thin but solid wire was hovering inches above his face. Clint's eyes widened in response as he tried to sink deeper into the blankets he was lying on. Strangely, his body didn't respond.
"Tony," he tried to say, but what came out was the strangled tones of a chain smoker.
The wire disappeared from Clint's view and the archer rolled his eyes to the side to see Stark lying on a gurney with a shocking amount of bandages and air casts on his body. His skin was singed with what looked like scorch marks, and a good portion of his face was caked with blood. He was glaring at Clint as he dropped his poking tool to the floor. Where he had gotten it from was anybody's guess…but if Clint were going to give it a shot, he thought it almost looked like a prod built out of unbent paperclips…
"T'ny," he tried again, his mouth strangely resistant to motion.
"Shut up," Tony said, his voice as cheerful as it was sulky. Clint wondered what kind of drugs they must have had Stark on. The archer also wondered what he, himself, was on. He could somewhat feel areas of his body that felt odd, out of place, and the implications of that made him almost whimper.
"I'm ignoring you. You almost died on me, jackass," Tony continued, oblivious to Barton's inner worries.
Clint frowned. He didn't remember anything of the sort.
He tried to raise an arm, wanting to rid himself of the annoying tingling sensation in his limbs, but found his muscles unresponsive. "Can't...move," he mumbled through his sore throat.
Tony turned suddenly sympathetic, which was never a promising sign. "Paralytic," the genius behind Stark Industries explained quietly. "Your heart stopped twice."
Ah. That explained the slight pressure he could feel in his chest. It didn't explain the sensation that flooded nearly every other part of his body though. It wasn't pain…just…the areas in his body where he remembered arrows sticking out of him – they felt wrong.
"Feels…weird," Clint whispered.
Tony nodded. "Be glad you can feel anything at all. They gave you a little something to start countering the poison so you wouldn't go and do something stupid like stop breathing again."
Clint sighed, accepting the explanation, and eyed his friend again. "You?"
"I don't feel any pain, either. They've got me on some pretty good stuff. Not as good as your paralytic, though. Lucky bastard. Well…lucky if it wasn't trying to kill you." Tony shrugged carefully with the shoulder that wasn't encased in a balloon, and changed the subject. "All of us really blew the mission, you know. Fury's going to start assigning us bodyguards if this keeps up."
Clint tried to smile, but didn't think he pulled it off. Something had been keeping him from being able to move his lips properly, and he also felt a strange pressure in his throat that shouldn't be there. He voiced the concerns to Tony.
His friend looked uncomfortable at the brokenly spoke questions. "Er – you probably screamed a lot, with the…arrows, and everything. I'm sure your throat…and…mouth…are just strained from that," he hedged lamely, but Clint glared at him. "Fine. You better not freak out on me. They put a talking tracheostomy in you."
Clint promptly passed out once more.
Tony watched his friend faint with sort of an amused smirk.
Wow, he was really high right now.
He couldn't feel his mangled arm or leg at all, or the electricity burns, or what was his thrown around insides, or the huge gash on his head. He felt wonderful.
Snap out of it, Stark. He groaned. There was that inner voice again, fighting his blissfully pain-free mind. A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent came in then. "We're ready to move you guys to the helicarrier," she told him upon seeing that he was awake.
He snapped his fingers at her. "Phone, now."
"Sir, I'm not sure I'm authorized-"
"Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?" he whined. "I just wanna call my girlfriend, tell her I'm okay." He gave her a loopy smile. The corners of her mouth turned upwards, and she reached into her pocket and pulled out her smart phone.
"I'll be back in ten," she said before leaving.
He got to work and opened an internet browser before typing in a numeral url. It was hard to focus, the drugs making him want to roll over or drop the phone or any number of things, but he willed his fingers to type. When the page loaded, a password prompt came up, and he typed it in. The Jarvis UI began instantly downloading itself onto the phone. For the minute it was downloading, Tony lolled his head to look at Clint again. The man looked like shit. He giggled. "You look like shit," he said out loud. He giggled again, louder.
Ugh, drugs. The phone beeped, and he forgot for a moment what he had been doing until a familiar voice said "Sir, my mobile edition has been uploaded."
"Right, Jarvis, I need...I need..." what did he need? He looked to the corner of the room, where half his armor was stacked in a clumsy heap on the floor. "Get in to the suit. Run diagnostics. Drop all findings in the security isolated drive on the private server." Whatever had messed up the suit couldn't mess with the mobile OS. But just in case, he added, "If the virus gets in, drop connection, destroy this phone." He giggled.
"I don't see what's so funny about being hacked, Sir, but I will begin diagnostic." Tony moved to stuff the phone under his pillow. This shouldn't have happened. He was probably the smartest engineer in the world, if not top five. He had allowed himself to put his teammates in danger, and he would not be responsible for that again. He giggled before saying out loud, "I sound so serious."
His head turned as a flurry of activity sounded from outside his room. He heard shouts of "Captain America". Oh good, Steve's back. Been waitin' for his ass to join this party. Tony had some rather pointed, drug-induced-state type things to say to the man for pulling his arc reactor purposely out of his chest. But then he heard more shouts of "stabbed", "broken", all manner of things Tony was not comfortable with. He rolled over on his stomach, trying to use one hand and his IV line to pull himself closer to the door. The IV fell over with a crash, and the needle ripped free of his hand. He didn't feel it, but he did say "Oops." out loud. There, that atoned for it.
Thor was in the doorway then. "Thooooooooooor," he drawled. "Fancy seeing you here. What happened?" Thor's face and arms were covered in light pink burns, but they didn't seem to bother him.
The Asgardian moved closer. "Tony Stark...you may need to be sedated for your own good," he said picking the IV line off the floor.
Tony puffed out air from between closed lips and waved him off. "What? Nooooooooooooooooo. Don't tell anyone, but I'm running a secret hack job! I'm hacking my hack of my own suit." He giggled again.
"I do not understand what that means."
Tony stared up at his friend.
"Why the long face, God-man?" he asked, offering up another loopy grin.
"Steve Rogers is...in bad shape," Thor said quietly.
Tony's face fell. Of course, how could he forget about Steve? He looked back towards Clint, hooked up to tubes, a trach in his throat. To Thor, covered with burns. To his own injuries. He felt the rage begin to bubble up under his loopy facade, and he struggled to hold onto those feelings.
"Don't worry...we'll kill whoever did this..." Thor narrowed his eyes at him and nodded silently.
"Where are they now?" Fury asked quietly, his back turned to Coulson as he sat resting his aching head in one hand.
"They were taken to the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical compound to be stabilized, sir."
Nick swiveled the chair around. "The closest one was, what, thirty miles or so from the incident location?"
"But they all made it in okay?"
Phil nodded. "More or less, sir. They're being prepared for transport to us now."
Fury let out a heavy sigh. "How did this happen, Phil? They were damn near killed out there."
"We're working on that. According to Stark's AI, he's already running schematics on the hack. And we have a woman in custody that Agent Romanov was able to subdue...but I'm afraid it'll be some time before she can tell us anything. Black Widow was a bit...angry with her..."
"Good," Nick snarled. "You let me know the second she is able to talk. I want to handle the interrogation personally."
"Yes, sir. Will that be all, sir?"
"Yeah. Keep me up to date on everything, and I want you down in the bay when our team gets on board. See to it the medical staff has everything they need."
Coulson nodded sharply and turned to leave Fury with his dark thoughts. The medical reports he'd received weren't good. Hell, they were a fucking train wreck. Rogers probably would've died if not for his enhanced regenerative abilities. Clint had died. Twice. Tony might as well have jumped out of a plane with no parachute, he was busted up that bad. Natasha couldn't even stand and would probably be in and out of consciousness for a few days at least, with her conscious phases full of muddied thoughts and memory loss. Thor's burns looked painful, but would heal, and the only reason Banner was fine was because of his unique genetics. Those two were basically fully functional, but Fury couldn't run a team with just Thor and Hulk.
He growled in frustration and slammed his fist on the table. Whoever was responsible for this - and Fury was damn sure that person wasn't one of the ones found dead in the compound - was going to get away from them. He just didn't have the manpower to bring the culprit in.
It wouldn't be forever, though. Once The Avengers were back in fighting shape, they were going after that person, and they were going to make him or her wish they had been killed fast.
"Sir, we have confirmation that our people are approaching," Coulson informed him through the comm system.
Nick let out a sigh. "I'll come down and see them when they're settled. Take care of them, Phil."
"I will, sir."
The man adjusted the sleeves on his labcoat, whistling cheerfully to himself. S.H.I.E.L.D. had grown slack with checking photo IDs on low life janitors, and it had been easy enough to trade his way up until he'd found a suitable doctor to replace.
Still, a little preparation went a long way.
He'd done it. Him. A mostly ordinary (he was a genius, after all) man had just taken out the majority of the Avengers, and best of all, survived. Of course, so had all of them. He'd hoped they would all be dead so there'd be no one around to interfere with his own team – now also almost all dead - from infiltrating and taking out S.H.I.E.L.D. Still, he considered it a victory.
It hadn't been easy, he knew. The archer's resistance to saying anything useful, while not totally unexpected, had been annoying all the same. Stark wasn't supposed to be in the compound at all, but the preemptive hacking had stopped him nicely. The famed Captain America - that was child's play. He'd underestimated the female, but in the end, things had wrapped up nicely.
He grinned again, dropping the syringe he'd used to sedate one of the doctors that was supposed to be assigned to the archer. The man was probably snoozing away in the lunchroom, oblivious to the fact that his inattention had helped someone intent on destroying his organization. Yes, today was a good day.
Soon they'd have a catastrophic failure with the systems monitoring the vitals. Under the guise of checking the systems as the archer was wheeled into the facility, he'd fiddled and tweaked with a few things here and there so that any moment now two alarms would go off almost simultaneously which would create enough of a distraction for him to get into position to escape the helicarrier. He'd slipped into the base, taken care of business, and now nothing was left to connect him with the strike.
He frowned. He almost regretted the necessity of killing the one remaining member of his team. She'd failed him, though, and he'd had to dispose of her before she could be forced to speak agian.
The pseudo-doctor shrugged carelessly. Next time he'd choose his allies better, because only his hasty intervention had carried it off. He'd timed things perfectly. In the confusion and melee surrounding the mauled team, he'd been able to bypass the high-end security Fury was famed for, and was able to slip a little something extra into his ex-minion's IV line as she was moved towards a secure room. She'd be dead soon enough.
It really was a pity, though, he thought as he carefully placed a few syringes of chlorine mixed with a weak base into his coat pocket. She was good, but had cracked too easily under the Black Widow.
Meticulously, he gathered up several other syringes and odds and ends that wouldn't look out of place if he was searched, but would look too out of place if left behind.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he heard worried shouts. The systems must have gone off, signaling the fake Code Blue, and now he'd be able to slip the net.
One day, the Avengers would recover and hunt after him, but he was confident they'd find nothing more than a ghost.
Yes, things were working out just fine.
Phil sighed as he leaned back against the wall. He'd read the reports, but as thorough as they had been, it was still quite a shock when he had laid eyes on the team as they were wheeled off the helicopters. Those first few minutes after they'd arrived had been harrowing. Orders were shouted hastily, medics were running around in a fashion that was both chaotic yet completely organized at the same time, everyone was split off into wherever they needed to go to get the best attention for their various injuries. Phil had been torn with which one to follow - both Clint and Steve were being moved fast, both with IVs attached to them pumping in precious fluids, words being shouted around them about internal injuries and prepping for surgery. Clint looked like a damn cyborg with the trach tube keeping the oxygen he needed to survive flowing into his lungs. Tony looked like he was about to be shipped off in the mail, cocooned in special bubblewrap and marked as "Fragile." Natasha was currently out for the count, enough blood in her hair that it looked like she dyed it a darker shade of red. Banner was just coming around from his post-Hulkout, looking as lost as Phil felt at the moment as he watched his teammates being wheeled away. Thor stepped out last, looking like the weight of all the worlds rested on his shoulders. He had stood still for a long time, his eyes trailing after the gurneys, before Phil had walked up to him.
"Hey, you did what you could. They're alive because you brought them all in," Coulson had said gently, wanting to place a hand on the Asgardian's shoulder, but not sure where to touch where he wouldn't irritate one of the burns. "Why don't go on down to the infirmary - Room 12. I'll send someone in to put some ointment on these when they're done with the others."
Thor just nodded and shuffled off quietly. The god had looked completely broken.
Sighing, Coulson had come to the conclusion that Stark would be the one he needed to shadow. He jogged ahead, catching up to the gurney before the doctors could whisk the man away to repair the damage on the broken bones.
"Tony, you in there?" he asked with a smile.
The lopsided grin Stark shot back hadn't bode well for coherent conversation. "Phil! Buddy!" He dropped his voice to a stage whisper. "I broke my suit."
"I know, Tony. You'll get a new one."
"I know! Because I can make them myself! I'm a genius. Did you know that?"
Phil chuckled. "Yes, I did. I also know that because you're such a genius, you were able to run a hack on the hack, right?"
"YES! I AM THE ULTIMATE GOD OF HACKING MY OWN SUIT!" The shout had made Coulson cringe.
"Do you know if you found anything useful?" he asked.
Tony thought about it really hard, then nodded slowly. "Jarvis knows everything. He'll spill the beans. But only if you have the secret password."
"That's good, Tony. You want to tell me what the password is?"
"Nope. It's in my head. For my eyes only. It's mine." Stark had sounded like a petulant child at that moment.
"Well, maybe you should tell me so you don't forget it during your surgery, okay?"
Tony laughed and shook his casted arm at Phil, probably in an attempt to shake a single finger. "You can't trick me," he sing-songed. "I'll tell you. I'll tell you when I'm better."
With that, the doctors had wheeled him into the operating room. Phil decided to wait outside, hoping Stark really wouldn't forget his own password. That would just be the icing on the cake.
That's where he currently was still standing when a flurry of activity suddenly happened around him. Some of the doctors that had gone in with Tony burst out into the hall.
"What's happening" Coulson asked.
"Code Blue," one of them answered as he ran. "Barton's crashing."
"Shit." Phil raced after them, needing to make sure his favorite marksman was going to be okay.
Steve was vaguely aware of voices. He was drifting through a drug-induced fog, but it was beginning to wear off.
"...false alarm. But he got away, and our only witness is dead."
Coulson? And what was he talking about? He opened his eyes slowly, blinking to get things in focus. He was in a darkened room, sheets covering his lower half. Bandages were wrapped around his torso. He grunted as he tried to lift his hand up to his stomach. It twinged, and he gasped in pain. He gave up, and looked at the rest of his body. His foot was being held up in a sling hanging from the ceiling, and it was totally black and blue. Pins were sticking out of it in every direction, and he could see a few bandages covering it as well. Luckily, he couldn't feel any of it, and it was still in the actual shape of a foot.
Wait, what had he been expecting?
He slowly turned his head to see an unconscious Natasha next to him, the sheets pulled up to her waist and dressed in scrubs. He didn't see anything wrong with her, though, aside from the obvious bruises from the fight. But she had taken a really bad hit to the head...
It all came back to him in a flash, and he cringed, breathing hard as he rolled the other direction, trying to locate his teammates. Tony was unconscious on his other side. The light given off from his arc reactor showed how almost his entire body was covered in black and blue bruising. His right arm was in a full arm cast extending over his shoulder and his left calf was suspended like his foot. Almost the entire leg was black and he had about as much pins in it as Steve had in his.
He couldn't see Clint.
"We failed," a voice spoke from the doorway. Steve looked over to see Bruce illuminated by the light from the hallway. He walked in, and pulled a chair up to Steve's bed. Bruce looked from his foot to Tony.
"Bruce," Steve's throat was scratchy. "This wasn't...your fault. You actually...tried to help. He and I would...probably both had died...if you weren't there." Bruce didn't seem assuaged. "Where's...Clint?"
"Still in detox. He still needs a lot of work." Steve warily rubbed a hand over his face. "Tony started a trace on whatever it was that hacked his suit, but they put him under before he could tell anyone the password to get the information. Thor's debriefing Fury."
"How did this...happen, Bruce?"
"We were unprepared."
"Hasn't stopped us before." Steve gave a tiny smile.
Bruce didn't return it. He got up, moving towards the doorway. "I don't think that's going to work anymore."
Steve's face fell as he looked over his injured teammates again.
"I know you're awake, Barton."
Clint swallowed and opened his eyes, but kept his gaze focused on the ceiling instead of on his boss. Fury stepped closer to the bed so if nothing else, he could at least still be seen in the archer's peripheral vision. Seeing that Clint wasn't going to do anything more to acknowledge his presence, he kept talking.
"You know they gave you that talking trach so you could communicate, right? But from what I hear, you didn't say one word the entire time it was in except to ask how everyone else was doing. Maybe the thing was just too uncomfortable to speak around. I get that. But it's been out for two days now and you're still pulling the silent treatment routine. You wanna tell me why?"
Clint merely turned his head away, unable to do much of anything else to escape the interrogation. He wasn't speaking because he didn't want to. Plain and simple. There were just too many things on his mind that he didn't need being loosed into the air, that he didn't want to acknowledge by voicing them out loud.
"Heard you woke up in the middle of your surgery," Fury continued casually, pulling out a chair to sit beside the bed. "I can imagine that may have been a little bit traumatic."
That was an understatement. The surgeons hadn't wanted to risk anesthesia, but they'd needed to repair the damage the arrows had done in his sides. The poison had ensured he couldn't feel any pain, but whatever they'd given him to counteract the lethal drug was enough to allow him to feel touch and pressure on a very basic level, and there was nothing to keep him from regaining consciousness at random. Having tools poking around inside him, sewing things up, prodding things around - it was enough to bring him back from his peaceful oblivion, waking him to the vision of bloody, gloved fingers slipping in and out of his body. What was worse was seeing it happening and not being able to react to it on any level beyond the slightest increase in his heart rate. His adrenaline wasn't even working properly at the time. Luckily one of the nurses had seen the panic in his eyes, had heard his weak cry, and had created a barrier between his face and the rest of his body so he wouldn't be able to watch anymore. She'd calmly explained to him what was going on, after which he was able to relax again. It was just an issue of bad timing - something he understood, and would get over. Scary as fuck, but he'd get over it.
"Don't keep that shit bottled up if you need to talk about it," Fury ordered, the words actually coming out of his mouth as an order. "But maybe that's not the real issue here. You worried about the operation? If so, don't. We've got the best team of surgeons in the world right now, all back there scrubbing up. You'll be good as new once they're done. You won't lose your place on the team, Barton."
Admittedly, that actually was one of his concerns. A small sigh of relief escaped his control at Fury's assurances, and he shut his eyes against the emotions that the topic worked up inside him. Given the circumstances, the doctors had only fixed what they absolutely had to in order to keep him alive during that first surgery - the internal damage in his sides, and the arterial nick in his left shoulder. The risk of working on everything else all at once was too high for his already taxed body, so they simply stitched him up and did their best to restrict any further damaging movement until it was safe to finish the repairs. All during his detox he was strapped up like a mummy, large bandages wrapped around his hands preventing any movement in them at all, which wouldn't have really mattered anyway since they were both trapped against his body. His arms were strapped across his torso to keep him from aggravating his shoulders, and he had braces on both knees so he couldn't try to bend them. Not that he even wanted to try moving anything. He had been given pain medication gradually, the dosage increasing by small increments as the poison was flushed out of his system, but it wasn't nearly enough to make him at all comfortable. He hurt everywhere, and though the tendon damage in his knees was probably the most painful of his injuries at the moment, the damage to his hands and shoulders worried him the most. He could still fire a bow without his legs, but if they couldn't repair his arms... He was going in for all the reconstructive surgery today, and the thought that the damage might be permanently crippling terrified him. He definitely did not want to talk about that.
Fury took another guess. "Or maybe you're not talking because on some level, you blame yourself for all this?"
The breath caught in Clint's throat.
"That's what I thought." Sitting back and crossing his arms over his chest, Fury pushed ahead in a way that the archer wasn't expecting. "Well, you're damn right it's your fault." Clint snapped his head around to look at his employer, his eyes widening in shock, fear, and shame. "You just go right ahead and carry the blame for being the first one caught. And Thor can be angry at himself for falling down that electric waterslide. Tony can continue bitching about being the most idiotic genius on the planet. Natasha should keep beating her knuckles bloody on that bag until her memory comes back in full. Banner has every reason to hole up in his room feeling guilty for actions he had zero control over; and Steve...well Steve is supposed to be your team leader. He needs to let himself feel responsible for it all. Laying around, sulking, mumbling about how he should've kept better tabs on everyone - well, he's damn right! That's his fucking job. Just like it's my job to make sure I'm not sending my men down into a fucking rat trap. We all fucked up here, Barton, we all carry the blame. We got reckless, and every last one of us is paying the price for it...some of you more than others. So you have a choice here, agent. You can lay there not talking to anyone, putting all the blame on yourself, or you can accept that you were just one part in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s failure as a whole. Now, me? I'm all for sharing that weight. Makes it a little easier to carry, wouldn't you agree?"
Clint shut his eyes again and nodded his head slowly. "Yes, sir," he answered, his underused voice merely a whisper.
"Good," Fury said as he stood up, checking his watch. "The doctors should be down any minute to prep you for your surgery. You feel up to seeing a few well-wishers before you go back under the knife?"
He didn't give Clint the chance to answer before he stepped back to the door and jerked it open. Coulson came in first, followed by Thor, Natasha, and Banner. Much to Barton's surprise, two full hospital beds containing Tony and Steve, limbs rigged up in traction and all, were wheeled in last. They all smiled at him, albeit with a collective sadness and sense of failure attached to each smile. He was certain his returning grin looked much the same.
Not much was said between them as they waited patiently for the surgeons to haul him away. Not much was needed to be said. They were there as a show of support, a positive force that wouldn't allow him to lose hope, assuring him that he'd come out of this as still a functioning member of the team. They were also there to share their pain as a group, to feed off each other's weaknesses and to learn from them, to look at the full extent of one another's injuries, fueling the desire to seek retribution for it all.
And to reveal one tiny piece of news, one single, tiny ray of light that broke through the storm clouds:
Tony had a lead.
"We're going after that fucker," he said coldly as the archer was being taken away.
Clint made the doctors stop just long enough for him to answer, his gaze locked on Tony, but his words meant for everyone in the room, speaking with as much fire as he could put into his rasping voice.
"Count me in."
The determination in his eyes fanned the flames already burning through the others. At that moment, all together as one unit in one room, they were no longer a team of trained agents. They were a pack of hungry wolves, and the smell of blood was thick in the air. It was only a matter of time before they went out in search of their kill...
Fin...Until Next Time...