A/N: Thanks very, very, very much for the continued interest in my work. Sorry if I thanked you on reviews twice, I got confused as to which fics I thanked and which ones I didn't. So thanks again! Also thanks to everyone who fav'd and alerted. I got some post-movie stuff in the works as well, and hopefully I'll finish up the Shield story this week as well. I saw Avengers for the third time in 4 days today.
If Tony had wanted to be honest with himself, yeah, the flight over to Stark Industries had hurt. A lot. Turns out almost-faster-than-speed travel was hell on a broken leg with internal dampeners and armor and all sorts of things. When he landed in front of the building, he had sort of had to do this thing where he wobbled around in midair before falling to the pavement on his good knee and hands. He had been rather proud of himself for managing it, when he noticed a smug Natasha in full uniform already inside, watching him from behind the glass door. She gave him a sarcastic thumbs-up.
He quickly got to his feet, doing his best not to limp on his bad leg. The armor sort of acted as a cast, keeping his leg straight, but it still hurt. The doors opened for him automatically, a built in feature of the building when it recognized his armor.
"You practicing to be Iron Man someday, Junior?" Natasha asked, arms crossed across her chest.
Tony ignored her. "What are you doing here? How did you get in?"
She rolled her eyes. "You may have been too busy sulking, but I work here again."
That hurt more than he cared to admit, coming from her, a teammate. No, he amended, a former teammate. "I hired you?"
"No, Pepper did."
"Well, in that case, you're fired." Tony walked past her into the main complex.
"You don't have the authority to do that." She followed him. Tony was quickly becoming exasperated. He hated how he could never get this woman out of his offices.
He sighed. "Why are you here again?"
"Because you have a mole in your company."
"Yeah, you," he bit out, more harshly than he had intended.
"An A.I.M. mole. I know they broke in here, with one of the creatures they had back East. And Tony."
He stopped and turned minutely, taking in her face over his shoulder. "I know what really happened. With Steve." He turned back around not bothering to answer.
Suddenly, Natasha became angry, jogging in front of him and putting her fist against his arc reactor. He didn't move, just stared down with the Iron mask that Natasha now knew reflected the actual anger and pain in his heart. "Look, everyone's sorry about what happened. What we said. I'm sorry. We should have trusted you."
"But YOU need to understand something too. You need to trust US. We're not taking the day off because the bad guy has an electric tentacle for a sidearm instead of a nine mil. We don't work as hard as we do to let you take all the hits from the giant, fire breathing mutant wolf thing. Let us do our jobs, Tony, whether it's being your backup, or protecting New York from the goddamn Stay Puft marshmellow man."
They stood there a moment, she breathing hard, her fist still on his chest, her eyes burning with murderous, but honest, intent.
Finally, his masked popped up, exposing his face, and she knew she had gotten through.
"Did you just make a Ghostbusters reference?" He grinned cheekily.
"So what if I did?" she snarled.
"I just…I guess I didn't realize you watched movies."
She rolled her eyes, before taking her hand away from his armor. "So…do we have an understanding?"
His mask popped back down. "Yeah, sure…I just…you sure everyone else wants…" he trailed off.
"Please," she huffed, turning around and unholstering her gun. "They were as sad to see you leave as you were to go."
"I wasn't sad," Tony insisted, secretly glad to hear that someone had actually missed him. It was still a feeling that was foreign to him. Not missing him for his money, or because he was good at building WMDs, or because they actually needed a CEO present to hold board meetings. It made him feel…valuable.
"I do talk to Pepper on a regular basis you know."
Changing the subject, Tony tapped into the Stark Industries security feeds. The list of employees who had entered and exited the building for the past two hours was small. "Hmm…being lower down on the corporate ladder than I am, do you have any familiarity with a Chuck Bryant at all?"
"You do realize I work in the office, right?"
"Didn't stop you from hacking everything in sight," he grumbled. "Anyways, he entered the building through the sub-level doors about forty minutes ago. It being 10:55 at night, that seem a little strange to you?"
"Only if you don't keep our hours."
They moved together to the sublevels, on high alert. Tony moved slowly, every step jarring his leg. The boot was doing a decent job of keeping his leg straight and supported, but it was still too early to be putting weight on it.
They made their way to the sublevels of the facility, the sound of Iron Man's footsteps echoing loudly against the steel stairways. They soon made their way into a large, cavernous room, the walls painted bright, laboratory white and lit only at this hour by harsh, florescent lights. Scattered around the room were various computers, taking readings. The air shimmered slightly around some stations, and when Natasha turned her head towards another station, she found her gaze…sliding off of it against her will. Unnerved, she focused on Iron Man's back.
"What do you-"
She was cut off as a yellow blur barreled into Iron Man from the side and they crashed into a computer array.
Tony fired his repulsors into the thing attacking him, hearing it give a screech before it stumbled off. From what he could tell, it was like the things before, but it had more legs. Far, far too many legs. "Trace it," he told Jarvis. A yellow ring appeared on his HUD, and he pulled himself to his feet as he followed it around the room.
"You okay?" Natasha called out.
"Yeah," he said pulling himself up out of the wreckage that was probably thousands of dollars' worth of equipment. "Careful, it's fast. Duck."
She did, and a shoulder panel opened on his armor, letting out about 10 tiny little missiles up into the darkness of the ceiling. There were explosions of light, and she raised her gun as the…giant centipede thing gave another screech. She fired, but it nimbly dodged the bullets before letting go of the ceiling and launching itself at her.
She took two steps and dove. "Shoot!" he did, and it screeched loudly before slithering out of sight again. His head moved to track it. "It seems to be…somewhat immune to you," she hissed.
"Yeah," he said uncertainly. "Of course, I don't share the armor tech secrets with the company."
Of course he didn't. He was far too paranoid for that.
"I hope you have more of those lasers, then." She trained her gun in the direction that he was looking.
"Well, sure, but-SHIT." He raised his arms as the thing dropped from the ceiling oh him with a screech. There was a shower of sparks as the repulsors went off, but this time the monster just powered through, latching a huge maw filled with black, pointy teeth onto his helmet. Legs clamped down on his arms, holding them against the ground.
Natasha leapt at the monster firing bullets into its back. She was in mid-air when the thing maneuvered its tail. She saw it coming, but without a surface to push off of, she couldn't dodge. Its tail slammed into her stomach and she went down, gasping.
Tony's HUD was flashing red and his helmet was slowly being crushed inwards. He winced as he felt the sharp tip of a fang begin to penetrate through the metal and into his temple. He couldn't get his arms up to hit it with the repulsors or laser, and he had already fired his shoulder missiles.
"Gah…divert power to chest beam!" He felt the rumbling in his chest as he lost power in his arms and legs.
Jarvis' voice sounded in his ear. "Firing."
Tony's head snapped back as the monster abruptly let go, before maneuvering so it was hovering over the arc reactor. Quicker than Tony could follow, it opened its jaws and snapped its mouth down. Tony jerked, but luckily the fangs hadn't penetrated the armor deep enough to reach him. "Smile," he growled.
The chest beam went off, pushing Tony's back against the floor and simultaneously lighting up the beast from the inside out. Tony grinned wider before he realized something was wrong.
The thing was swallowing the blast.
Shit. How could he forget.
The things were made to eat technology. Ohhhhh, he was fucked.
He heard gunshots, but they didn't seem to have any effect on the thing. It swished its tail again, and he heard her cry out. "Romanoff!"
The beast let go of his chest and crunched back down on his helmet. He grunted as he felt the edges getting closer, could feel the seams starting to give.
"Warning. Power levels at 40%. Warning."
"Helpful, thanks!" His arms weren't as powerful as before, and there wasn't enough energy to use the chest beam again, not that it would be helpful. He heard and felt the metal crunch inward again, and felt a fang scratch over his cheek, followed by a warm sensation. Oh god, this was it. Death by centipede Cloverfield monster. He was still trying to calculate his available options, knowing there wasn't enough time but trying to do it anyway, when there was a metal clang and thing let go, sliding off him.
Tony gasped, rolling over to his good knee and looking up.
Standing there, in his facility, was Captain America, catching his returning shield. Standing to either side of him were Hawkeye, Thor, and Bruce Banner, eyes already glowing green.
Tony felt a little choked up. He honestly did.
"How the hell did you guys get in here?"
"What the…you ungrateful ass!" Barton shouted. But Tony knew this time, it wasn't malicious.
Thor smiled. "We are glad to see you too, friend. And we'd like-"
Natasha stood up, coughing a few times, cutting him off. "Apologies later. Monster, now."
"Bruce?" Steve turned, grinning.
But Bruce wasn't Bruce anymore. With a savage roar, he pulled the tattered remains of his shirt off, and leapt on top of the monster. Thor followed suit, and Hawkeye ran to Natasha, helping her up.
Steve ran to Tony, picking him up. Tony bit off a cry of pain from his leg, but let himself be manhandled out of the way. "You didn't need to come," he grumbled.
"We're a team. Of course we did."
And like he had never left, they were assembled.
Steve left Tony standing there on a busted leg, and leapt into the fray. Hulk swung the monster into Steve's shield and as it screamed in pain, Thor came down on its tail with his hammer. Tony heard a twang shortly before an arrow embedded itself into the thing's eye.
But it wasn't slowing down.
"Sir, my readings indicate the beast is gaining mass," Jarvis informed him calmly. But Tony could hear that note of worry in his voice, the one Jarvis had programmed in himself.
"Right," Tony mumbled. He watched with alarm as the thing sunk its teeth into the Hulk's arm who gave a roar of rage and swung around trying to get it off. His movements made him slam into Thor, who went flying through the ceiling as Steve dove out of the way.
"Thor!" Tony stepped forward but almost collapsed again from the pain in his leg.
"Stark, stop!" Natasha limped over to him, followed by Hawkeye. "You've done enough."
"They're not gonna get through that thing, it's armor's too strong," Tony huffed.
"What do you suggest?" Clint snapped, firing an arrow right as the Hulk tore the beast off his arm and let fly. Tony looked around, and saw Thor's hand gripping the edge of the hole in the ceiling.
"THOR! Stay there!"
The Asgardian's head poked up curiously from the edge, followed by the rest of his body.
"When I say, light me up!"
Thor grinned savagely. "It would be my pleasure!"
He turned his head towards the SHIELD agents. "You guys should probably stand about 20 feet away." Natasha just peered at him curiously, but Clint grabbed her wrist and they lopped off together for cover. "Steve, I need you to move. Try and get Hulk to as well. I'd rather not fry him."
The thrown monster was flopping like a fish, trying to right itself. Hulk took one menacing step towards it, but Steve grabbed his wrist. Tony for a moment though Steve was about to become a blue pancake, but after a second, Steve was running out of the way, the Hulk begrudgingly following.
"Divert all power to chest beam," Tony Told Jarvis. The HUD faded slightly as the AI complied. "Hawkeye, on my mark, shoot it between the armor plates on its…well, where it's neck would be. Thor, let's get Thunderstruck."
There was a boom, and Tony prepared himself, but it was always a bit of a shock, he supposed he could say, when the lightning hit him. The HUD flashed crazily, and Tony winced as he felt himself being pushed back a few steps from the sheer force of it. The armor tingled around him for a moment.
"Power levels at 400%, 90% of power diverted to chest beam."
Tony used his thrusters to propel him the last few feet to the monster which had righted itself as the arrow embedded itself between the plates. The small opening was a enough to get a few fingers in, and he pulled it apart as the armor shook from the high power levels.
The plates came free right as the chest beam went off, and the sheer amount of force being released felt like someone was punching him in the chest.
The thing exploded as Tony toppled backwards, suit nearly depleted, leg screaming in pain and his chest aching. But the beast was a pile of cat food now, and he sighed happily as he lay on his back and popped the face mask up.
Steve's concerned visage was the first in view, and Tony giggled up at him. "We can go home now, right? I'll call someone to clean this up. Hey, how'd you guys like to stay at my place in Malibu? That'll be fun right?"
Thor gripped his hand, pulling him upright and Tony winced. "I do not know what a Malibu is."
"How about a hospital, first?" Steve grinned.
They all ended up crashing (in Banner's case, literal crashing as he always fell into unconsciousness after a Hulk-out) at Tony's house with him and Pepper for four days. Fury had called once, but for the most part left them alone, for which Tony was grateful.
Thor especially liked the swimming pool, though none of Tony's trunks fit him. Everyone found a reason to be inside when he was in it.
Steve had made sure SHIELD was on top of the A.I.M. situation. But four SWAT teams and a destroyed base later, Fury had assured them there would be no more Technovores, as the monsters had been dubbed. Steve hoped SHIELD wasn't hiding away stolen technology anymore, but he was sure Tony and Jarvis would make sure of it later.
Both Thor and Clint had come up to Tony separately to apologize, Clint only saying it in a few words, which Tony hastily shot down. The man's face oozed guilt, and Tony, knowing the feeling, couldn't stay upset.
Thor had come in with flowery words and enough self-deprecation that it was giving Tony a headache. Tony had finally just opened a bottle of good wine as they sat on his porch drinking together and Thor telling him warrior tales of Asgard.
All in all, it was a good vacation.