AN ~ I'm deeply sorry for how long it has taken me to write and post this chapter. I have been working on other stories, and have just come back from holiday, but it's still inexcusable. I can only hope it was worth the wait for you all. Please review with your thoughts, or any questions, it really makes my day. The next chapter, five, is going to be something of a turning point, and I can promise you more drama and action. Enjoy!
Chapter Four – Out of the Embers
Clint barely had time to shout a harried warning and dive for Natasha, and then the thirty second floor was erupting cataclysmically. He managed to get a grip on her and register the stunned look in her eyes as he tackled her to the ground, sending them both flying away from the desk.
Steve had been out on the open floor, pacing, shield in hand, and only had time to crouch and throw it up in front of himself as a protective barrier.
Thor and Bruce looked toward Clint's shout, and the Asgardian swiftly grabbed the scientist and thrust the smaller man safely behind him, turning his back on the desk as he did so and bracing himself for the impact.
As the bomb detonated they were all propelled back by the force of its shockwave. Clint and Natasha, who had barely hit the floor as one, were tossed back into the air towards the north side of the building. Steve was catapulted across from them, landing on his side and rolling, and Thor and Bruce were thrown backwards into the wall opposite Natasha and Clint.
All three parties were fanned out and felled as the fire and heat burst outward in a death-summoning circle, bringing down chunks of ceiling, piping and brick from above. The desk exploded into lethal fragments faster than any eye could make out, sending pieces firing off in every direction. The glass window that made up the entire East wall instantly shattered outwards in screaming shards. In one abrupt movement the vault door was ripped from the wall with an accompanying metallic groan, and sent spiralling off into a corner. But by this point there was so much leaden dust, that if anyone had been left standing they wouldn't have been able to see which way it travelled anyway.
As the circulating fire and wind began to dissipate, the floor was left eerily silent and suspended.
The musical voices had long since faded into hushed quiet. Tony felt that enough clarity had returned for him to break through the hazy mist. The ethereal light turned into a sterile one as he found the energy to blink once. Then again. As he mustered the energy to keep his eyes open for longer the room slowly became clear..
Objects came into crystal focus, and he recognised the stereotypical design of the medical rooms on the helicarrier. Tony grunted mildly as the various pains across his body began to reveal themselves. This was enough to alert the nurse who had been bustling with what he suspected was his file, across the room.
"Mr Stark, can you hear me?" She asked, coming close and shining a light in each eye in turn.
"Yeah, well enough to know that you obviously haven't given me enough morphine, as your voice is making my hear pound." He grumbled pushing himself into a sitting position slowly.
Instead of giving him a raised eyebrow as he expected, the nurse granted him an amused smile and helped him sit up.
"What happened? Where's the rest of the team?"
"You were injured on a mission, and the rest of the team brought you back here. They've gone on another mission, but I'm not privy to any of the details." She replied, checking the monitors.
"Were any of them hurt? Was the boy ok?"
"I don't believe so, but you were rather seriously. It was lucky your suit protected you from any internal bleeding. Your chest piece does seem to have a crack in it though and you sustained a dislocated shoulder which we've set back in place. As for…a boy? I don't know anything about that."
Tony looked down, surprised, and ran his index finger of the thin line, wincing as the movement pulled his shoulder.
"That's fine," he brushed it off, "easily reparable. I need to know where the team have gone now."
"As I said, I don't hold the authority to know that kind of information."
"Well in that case," he began, manoeuvring himself towards the edge of the bed and intending to get off it, "I need to go-"
"Sir, I'm sorry, but you took a very hard knock to the chest. I need you to remain here until we've finished the necessary tests."
"…Alright." Tony huffed. "Could you pass me some water please?"
The nurse blinked in surprise at his submission, she had been told to expect him to be difficult, but moved away to get the water. As soon as she had her back to him Tony pulled the IV out of his arm and swung his legs over the other side of the bed. He felt a slight dizziness, but pushed passed it and made it to the door before there was a shout of "Hey!" from behind him. He was through the door, however, and walking down the corridor quickly, so as not to give her a chance to come after him.
He knew Fury would be irritated with him for not following the nurse's precautions, but he had to find out how the mission ended, and where the rest of the team had gone. Hence why he burst into the central control room a few minutes later, slightly out of breath and clad only in the unkind material of the hospital gown, much to the surprise of Fury, Maria Hill and Pepper. As well as the numerous other agents bustling here and there.
Tony was used to large crowds, so it didn't faze him in the slightest when they all turned to gape in his direction. Instead he addressed Fury.
"What happened, how long have I been out and where's the rest of the team?"
Clint assumed he was floating on water because his body felt suspended in a state of warm tranquillity. He wondered if someone was mocking him, because as soon as he thought this something roughly hit his face. Although the hit felt rough, the thing that had done it felt soft. Everything was dulled so it was hard to tell.
Things began to come into sharper focus when something touched his lips. Something familiar, it seemed like…
His eyes blinked open to find Natasha staring down at him, her own eyes uncharacteristically wide.
"Nat?" He slurred.
"Yes, you're ok, just don't try to move." As usual she wasted no words in getting straight to the point, but her voice had taken on a soothing quality. It was that subtlety that told him he was in trouble.
Her hand rested lightly on his cheek and he was lucid enough to realise that this must have been the soft thing hitting him before. Her violent red hair was dishevelled and tainted with black dust and rubble. There were several rips in her suit and a gash in her cheek, but apart from that she seemed unharmed.
"Clint. Keep your focus on me." She said anchoring him in his tidal sea of thoughts. "The explosion has taken out the entire floor. I can't see the others through all this." She gestured to the swirling grey mist. "I'm not leaving you though."
She seemed to look down to a spot on his torso. Clint moved his hand, following her line of sight to where a sharp pain had flared above his right hip. His entire body tensed up when he felt a sharp object protruding from the offending spot.
He groaned and Natasha immediately covered his hand with both of hers, and guided it to lie back on his chest.
"It's a piece of wood from when the desk exploded. You shielded me and ended up taking the hit yourself. I don't know how deep it goes so I can't risk pulling it out."
Just then a noise to her left made her whip around, unholstering her gun and sliding off the safety all in one fast movement.
She kept the gun levelled until the figure of Steve emerged from the darkness. Apart from a slight limp and the same bruises that adorned Natasha, he seemed uninjured. His shield had clearly absorbed most of the force as it was splashed with blast marks.
He dropped down next to the two assassins, asking each in turn if they were ok. Upon seeing the archer's predicament, he placed his shield in a pile of rubble and inspected the wound the best he could in the bad light.
"There's not too much blood. But the pressure of it is the only thing stopping him from bleeding out." Natasha calmly stated what she had already gleaned from a similar inspection.
Steve looked up, his eyes expressing worry beyond that in Natasha's strictly controlled features. He was about to say something when a crash from across the floor interrupted him, and made all three of them look into the arcane darkness.
What they couldn't see was that the sound had come from the opposite wall where Thor and Bruce were. Or rather Thor and the Hulk. When Clint had shouted the warning, the God of Thunder had pushed the scientist behind him and absorbed most of the blast as it burst outwards. They had both still been thrown backwards and Bruce had been knocked unconscious, but was propelled into the far corner that he avoided any serious harm.
The blonde God, by his own purposeful design, was less fortunate. As the vault door ripped off its hinge it hit Thor and landed right on him. The vibrations from this caused more debris to be brought down from the ceiling over him and ripped a crack on the floor.
When consciousness flooded back through Bruce the sight of the Asgardian he had come to regard as not only a comrade, but a friend, buried beneath a metal mess and dazed by the force, was enough to make him see green. His last controlled thought was that because someone unknown had desired the destruction of the room, Thor had chosen to take the blow to protect him.
The sound the three other Avengers heard was the vault door being lifted from Thor and heaved across the room, followed by an enraged roar. He grabbed several other chunks of ceiling that had pinned the God and decorated the walls with them. The Hulk growled as the Asgardian stood slowly until he said: "It is alright my friend, I am unharmed."
A few more guttural rumbles came from his throat, but he seemed pacified by Thor's words and his mostly unscathed appearance.
Steve heard the God's voice and called out to them through the blackened air, coughing once in the process. The two made their way towards the other Avengers, using the Captain's voice as a compass. Upon seeing Clint's state, the Hulk snarled more, but didn't attempt to create any more holes in the walls.
Steve and Natasha were both discussing how best to get the archer back to the jet when Thor broke in.
"That will not be an issue."
Before either of them could question what he meant, the thunder-wielder produced a smooth oval stone that was somewhere in between grey and teal in colour.
"What is that?" Natasha demanded quietly as he began to crush it over Clint's injury.
"It's an Asgardian healing stone. We do not have cause to use them too often with our natural regenerative capabilities."
Dust was falling like fine, shining ash onto the wood and making it dissolve. The others watched with untameable interest as the piece of wood dissolved and the wound closed, the stone now entirely gone. Clint sat up, barely concealed surprise crossing his face.
"How do you feel?" Natasha asked him.
"Whole." The archer stated, looking down again to the spot.
A few more words were exchanged before Steve found the mostly illegible remains of the papers, and picked them up. They made their way somewhat gingerly across to the stairwell and ascended to the helipad, which, thankfully, had been high enough above them to remain intact. By this point, Bruce had calmed himself enough to revert back to his normal form.
Clint had gone from looking in the worst state of the five, to possibly the best. He climbed into the jet without any aid, and prepared to take off.
The journey was filled with quiet as each Avenger accompanied their own thoughts back to the helicarrier. They disembarked swiftly and headed straight for the bridge to report to Fury. Steve had radioed in briefly once they had regrouped at the tower, but knowing that if someone had breached Stark Tower, then there was a chance they were listening on the frequency, he kept the explanation minimal.
They passed several members of staff who didn't seem too surprised at their dishevelled appearance, considering the amount of times they had returned from a mission in a similar state.
As the five approached the doors that led out onto the bridge sounds of an agitated discussion drifted to them. Steve recognised one voice as Fury. The other was, irked, sarcastic and unmistakable.
The super soldier all but threw the door open, and there, in a hospital gown, stood Tony.