Coulson surveys the situation in the conference room, then turns towards Director Fury. "You're kidding, aren't you?" he asks, with just a hint of panic behind his usual emotionless voice.
"I wish I was," Fury replies. "As you can see, it's imperative to find out what happened and bring them back to a semblance of normality. I shall leave you to it, I need to go and see if we're any closer to finding out who did this..."
"You mean you're leaving me alone do deal with this? I think not," Coulson says.
Fury draws himself up. "Agent Coulson, that was a direct order," he begins, but Coulson interrupts him.
"Shit," Coulson swears.
"Agent, cursing will not get you out of this," Fury says.
Coulson makes a face and rushes forward. "Banner just shat himself," he says, rolling his eyes behind his sunglasses. "Go find some diapers, director."
Nobody's quite sure of what happened. Then again S.H.I.E.L.D. is in even more disarray than usual, since most of its personnel has been hit by whatever that ray was. A de-aging ray, a teenage guy in a white labcoat informs him. Except that what he says is more along the lines of, "It's, like, something that takes away years from people's age! It's totally cool, dude!"
Fury is tempted to yell at him because his jabbering is giving him a headache, but he can't because Banner is finally asleep and they can't risk to wake him up because he might throw a tantrum.
The Avengers got the worst of the de-aging, and they've all shrunk back to toddlers. Stark is the oldest one of the bunch, and he doesn't look older than four. It would be easier to hire a couple of nannies to look after them while the few adults left try to figure out what happened, but it turns out that regular nannies won't work with children that can lift them bodily. Fury glares at baby Rogers and baby Thor, currently napping under the conference table.
"Good job, agent," he tells Coulson. "All those episodes of Supernanny are finally coming in handy."
"Thank you, sir," Coulson says, picking up Stark before he can try to disassemble one of the chairs and confiscating his screwdriver.
Later, Fury manages to get away under the pretense that he's looking for Miss Potts who might be able to deal with the kids, because if he has to change another diaper he'll go crazy.
There's a bit of a crisis when they find out that Parker, being the youngest of the bunch, has turned into a newborn. Nobody noticed until he accidentally shot some spiderwebs and got himself stuck to the ceiling. While everyone is busy trying to get him down, Barton escapes from Coulson's care and disappears.
Fury is less than pleased with this new development.
"Agent Coulson," he whispers, still trying not to wake up Banner who managed to sleep through all of the alarms. "I was counting on you to keep an eye on them! Now Barton could be anywhere!"
"It would have been easier if you didn't wander off, leaving me alone to deal with everyone," Coulson replies, voice equally low, pacing up and down with Parker in his arms.
"I was trying to locate Miss Potts," Fury bristles.
Coulson snorts. "For the last five hours? I know you were hiding in your office reading the paper while I did all of the real work. Did you at least find her?"
Fury points to a little girl with pigtails, hiding behind his legs. "Yes," he says.
Coulson swears again.
They find Barton in a crawlspace on the third floor, and Coulson lures him out using a set of toy bow and arrows. Barton's aim is still eerily accurate, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents quickly learn to duck whenever they pass by the conference room, to avoid being hit by rubber-tipped ammo.
The toy set also contained a cowboy hat, which somehow becomes Stark's property. It's too big for him and falls over his eyes, but Tony doesn't seem to mind the fact that he's running around without seeing where he's going. In fact, Coulson thinks all Stark does is running around without seeing where he's going, so it's all right.
When Rogers gets his pudgy hands on the sheriff's plastic star and tries to eat it, Coulson decides that it's time to find them some food.
The cafeteria is overrun by preteens who think that cafeteria food is gross, so Coulson browbeats Fury until the director puts on an apron and ventures into the kitchen. He reemerges twenty minutes later, carrying a tray full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a bag of baby bottles. Coulson sends him back because the baby bottles aren't warm enough, and tells him to check the milk temperature on his wrist.
"I knew that," Fury mutters, and then he goes looking for someone over the age of fifteen who can tell him what Coulson meant.
Feeding a bunch of tiny Avengers is a lot like feeding a bunch of adult Avengers, Coulson thinks, except without the risk that they'll get drunk afterwards and wreck the place. When Fury returns with the warm milk, Coulson feeds baby Parker and makes him burp. Thor finishes his milk in record time and tosses his baby bottle on the floor, threatening to cry unless he gets more.
The scientific division of S.H.I.E.L.D., in between their Mario Kart tournament, decide that the de-aging ray is most likely of a magical nature. Loki is the number one suspect, but with all of the Avengers incapacitated they're not going to be able to fight him even if they find him.
Fury puts together a team and goes out himself. "Always trying to play superheroes when there's real work to do," Coulson mutters. "Remember to pick up some baby wipes on your way back! And cookies, we're out of cookies."
Thor likes the cookies, and it's not wise to separate him from the cookie jar. He already threw a tantrum because they're not letting him near Mjölnir.
Director Fury comes back much sooner than Coulson expected, and he's in one of his usual moods. "The good news is that we found Loki," he says. "The bad news is that we found Loki."
Loki is tucked under one of his arms, still grasping his ridiculous horned helm, which right now is almost bigger than him. He's alternatively pouting and gnawing at one of the horns. When Fury puts him down, Loki kicks him.
"What do you think you're doing, sir?" Coulson asks. "That's not the proper way to carry a child, he's not a sack of flour."
Fury glares at him. "He's our enemy," he says. "He was our only chance of turning everyone back to normal and he's two years old! What are we supposed to do now?"
"I don't know about 'we'," Coulson replies, crossing his arms in a dangerous way, "but you are going back and getting me those cookies. One thing, director, that's all I asked for, would it be too much to remember about the cookies and baby wipes?"
Loki stands in a corner of the room, pouting, while the Avengers sometimes stop playing to glare at him. Coulson is keeping an eye on Loki, because even in his current toddler status he's still a supervillain and it's not good to toss a supervillain in the same room as a bunch of heroes.
Thor is the first to approach Loki, clutching his last chocolate chip cookie. He splits the cookie in half and gives Loki one of the pieces, grinning. Loki stares alternatively at the cookie and at his brother, then drops the cookie and hugs Thor. Afterwards they recover the cookie from the floor and eat it.
Coulson forgets to scold them for eating off the floor, because he's busy editing their database to suggest the use of hugs and chocolate chip cookies when dealing with the God of Mischief. Then, since the director isn't around to complain about budget, Coulson gets rid of the furniture and turns the conference room into a nursery, since this situation might be slightly more permanent than they first thought. The giant rug with animal pictures proves especially popular with the kids.
Fury gets back into Coulson's good graces because he returns with four bags full of baby supplies, including stuffed toys and crayons which weren't on Coulson's shopping list but are very much appreciated. The kids have something to do that doesn't involve trying to escape or destroying the room, so Coulson can finally sit down for a while. Fury gets him a cup of coffee, because Coulson is the only thing stopping the Avengers from descending into chaos. Sort of.
Miss Potts and Agent Romanoff's tea party with Lady Pink Stuffed Bunny is cut short when Barton decides to use their plastic teapot and teacups as target practice. The two girls throw the teapot at him and then proceed to beat his tiny ass. Coulson lets them do it because he thinks there's a lesson here for Barton to learn, and anyway he's not bleeding so he'll be fine.
The boys have grabbed the crayons and some paper. Rogers is drawing all of the Avengers as a big family, holding hands with Coulson and Fury in front of what looks like the Stark Tower. It's very realistic, for a child's crayon drawing. Rogers keeps showing the drawing to Stark and Stark keeps telling him it's a pwetty picture, even when Rogers can't find the red crayon and draws Iron Man in purple.
Stark is just making scribbles at random, at least until Coulson realizes that he's drawing the schematics for some kind of machine made of diapers, sticks and a cookie jar. Coulson thinks it's safe to let him draw, though he'll have to stop Stark if he tries to build the thing. R rather when he tries to build the thing.
Banner draws a field of flowers, singing something under his breath. Thor and Loki attempt to draw on the floor at first, and Coulson has to threaten to separate them unless they draw on paper like all Midgardians. Thor and Loki compromise by spreading a dozen sheets of paper on the floor and drawing on all of them, a huge composite drawing that looks a bit like a giant and a bit like a dragon.
Catastrophe strikes when Barton runs over Banner's drawing, leaving a footprint right above his blue butterfly. Coulson wonder why it's always Barton who makes trouble, but he doesn't have time to scold him because Banner is literally turning green.
Stark collects Rogers' drawings and puts them away for safety, while the miniature Captain America and the miniature God of Thunder run after the miniature Hulk and try to stop him from tearing off miniature Hawkeye's head, which would be terrible for the Avengers' public image.
In the end it's Potts who manages to stop the rampage, by throwing cookies at the Hulk until he stops chasing Banner and starts eating. Coulson edits the S.H.I.E.L.D. database and adds a file about chocolate chip cookies, because they're obviously on to something here.
By dinner time Banner has calmed down enough to sit down with the other kids and eat his chicken nuggets. Coulson doesn't like that Fury is getting food from the McDonalds across the street, but Fury informs that it's either Happy Meals or more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so Coulson gives in. Nobody flings any food across the room, and Fury got him his favourite spicy chicken wrap, so Coulson counts it as a win.
The kids are already falling asleep as they sip their milkshakes, so Coulson wipes Stark's chocolate milk mustache off his face, stops Romanoff and Barton from dueling with their straws before they poke someone in the eye, and puts everyone to bed.
When the kids say that they're not sleepy and ask him for a bedtime story, Coulson tells them the story of some very naughty kids who didn't listen when their nanny told them to go to bed and were eaten by a giant octopus. It's very effective. Stark hides under the blankets and Potts cuddles Lady Pink Stuffed Bunny until Rogers promise that he'll fight all giant octopuses, and also all dinosaurs and all dragons, just in case. Loki crawls into Thor's bed when Coulson turns off the light, because he's afraid of the dark.
"Good job, agent," Fury tells Coulson after everyone is asleep. "I believe we're done for today."
Coulson hands him a baby monitor. "I certainly am, sir," he says. "If Parker starts crying, I'm not the one who's getting out of bed tonight. See you tomorrow, sir."
Fury stares at Coulson's retreating back, and then at the baby monitor. As if on cue, Parker starts crying. It's going to be a long night.