Chapter 14: Completely Outmatched

We walk the plank with our eyes wide open.

Steve couldn't feel his legs. His ears were buzzing and his entire body had gone cold.

"What do you mean she's been taken? Natasha…. Natasha doesn't get taken. She goes voluntarily, under the pretense of being taken."

"I know." Clint's voice was hollow. "It's different this time."

"What do you mean, Clint?"

"We weren't prepared for this mission… at all. They tracked our every move. For months. They learned how we fought, and then they—" His voice cracked and he cut off for a moment. "They designed androids, Steve. An android that fights like me, and an android that fights like Natasha. Just like Natasha. We… We were overpowered."

And suddenly the whole thing made sense. There was only one situation where Natasha wouldn't come out victorious, and it was a situation that Steve never imagined she would have to face.

The only person Natasha Romanoff would ever lose to would be herself.

Clint had left about five minutes ago for a private meeting with Fury, and the rest of the team was down in Dr. Banner's lab, getting check-ups. Or Tony was, anyway.

"Your levels are good," Bruce finally said, checking off something on a chart. Tony rolled his eyes and hopped off of the examination table he'd been forced to sit on.

"Just like I told you, I feel fine."

"It's not about feeling fine. It's about being fine. And you're fine." Bruce walked away before Tony could think of a creative retort, and he looked over to find Steve standing a few feet away, suppressing a smile.

"Shut up," Tony commanded, pointing an accusing finger at him. Steve just shook his head and leaned against the counter of a nearby lab table, shaking his head in amusement.

Damn him. He was already dressed in his suit, and as dorky as Tony tried to find the spangly get-up, he couldn't quite look past the fact that it made Steve look good. Really good.

And now that they all had to head out on this mission, who knew when Tony would be able to get Steve alone again? The thought made him ache. He knew he was being selfish, especially because it sounded like Natasha was actually in trouble, but it wasn't like he was going to refuse to help just because he would rather lie in bed with Steve all day.

He knew that Clint was a mess. That was apparent. But Tony supposed he would be the same way, in his position. Everyone knew that Clint loved Natasha. There was no question. It was there in the way he looked at her, the way he touched her hair when she was upset, the way his eyes followed her when she left the room. She was his entire world; Tony was beginning to know the feeling well, which scared him.

What he felt for Steve was new, but that didn't make it any less strong. The thought of not knowing where Steve was made Tony feel utterly panicked. If someone had forcibly taken him, and was holding him hostage… Well, it was unthinkable.

Tony glanced over at Steve and their eyes met. Even now, he longed to walk over and touch his face, just to reassure himself that he was all right and that he didn't need to worry. Steve's face held a similar expression, as if he was holding back, and it killed Tony to be this stuck. Bruce was still in the room, and Thor had been summoned and would be arriving momentarily. There would be a few seconds of alone time only if they were lucky.

"I have to make a phone call. I'll see you two up on the helipad." Bruce's voice cut across the fog of despair in Tony's mind and his head snapped around as he watched his teammate head for the stairs and disappear.

They stood still for a beat, as in disbelief that Bruce was really gone, and then Steve's arms were around Tony. He sighed in contentment and looped his arms around his neck, inhaling the smell of fresh laundry and faint cologne that was Steve.

"I didn't think we'd have another moment like this," Steve whispered. Tony's grip tightened.

"Me neither."

"I'm scared, Tony. Natasha…"

"I know."

"This could be bad."

"I know."

Steve gently pulled away and looked at Tony fixedly. "No matter what happens, we're in this together. Right?"

Tony nodded, unable to keep his eyes from straying to Steve's lips. Sensing his gaze, Steve tipped up Tony's chin and planted a soft, lingering kiss on his bottom lip.

"I want you to promise me that you won't do anything stupid or reckless. There's no excuse for it, because now you have someone that wants—and expects—you to come home in one piece at the end of the day."

With a smile, Tony replied, "You're right. Bruce would be pretty devastated if something happened to me."

Steve's face broke into a smile.

"Yeah. He would be."

Clint didn't talk for the entire flight. Thor was uncharacteristically quiet and stone-faced.

The expectation of what awaited them hung thickly in the air, so thickly that they could barely breathe.

After some thorough investigating, it seemed that every member of the Avengers could expect to face their own personal android. Everyone had an assignment, then, but they all knew it wouldn't be that easy. Considering the varying strengths within the group, some would be much harder to take down than others. Bruce's skin had never looked so pale.

Tony watched as Clint's fingers twitched to the seat beside him, the seat Natasha usually occupied.

His hand stayed there until they landed.

Chaos. That was all Steve could see for miles. Smoke, rubble, and pieces of metal covered the streets, and he could smell a fire somewhere nearby.

They heard them coming before they saw them. They heard the ominous screech of metal grinding together as the ground shook with each heavy step, drawing ever closer. They were marching, and their steps were completely in sync.

They were wading into a war, and Steve knew it well.

"Is that supposed to be me?"

Tony's dubious question died in his throat as the android came into full view, its red eyes flashing menacingly. It did look like the Iron Man suit, to be certain, but Tony was pretty sure none of his suits were rigged with explosives of that caliber.

"Tony, don't overestimate them. Natasha was taken, remember?"

Steve's voice filtered into Tony's busy cloud of thoughts and he nodded.

"Yeah, yeah Rogers, I got it."

He braced himself for the attack when he heard a familiar scream of rage. Inclining his head slightly, he looked to find the Hulk where Bruce had been standing only seconds before. Tony's blood ran cold as he followed his gaze and saw what had trigged Bruce's transformation.

"Jesus Christ."

For the people that thought Bruce was scary as the Hulk, they would have another thing coming if they ever saw this… thing clinging to the drainpipe of a building down the street.

Steve had never seen anything like it. It wasn't smooth or polished like the others – it was made of fractured pieces of metal, with wires sticking out all over the place. Giant green eyes eyed them hungrily from the distance, and the protruding wires began sparking furiously as it made eye contact. The group looked on with horror as its serrated mouth opened to release a mechanical roar so loud that the windows of every nearby building cracked and shattered. Steve hit the ground, pulling Clint with him and holding his shield over both of them as glass rained endlessly from the sky.

They stared there for a moment, bits of glass still hitting the shield, until the world around them quieted. Clint cautiously raised himself to check their surroundings, but was forced back to the ground as a gut-wrenching crash rocked the street beneath them.

Steve turned his head from under the shield to see Bruce wrestling with the metal monster. Within the five seconds it took for Steve and Clint to get to their feet, it had their comrade pinned to the ground. His heart stopped as Bruce turned to him, his green face absent of all rage and instead filled with unmistakable fear.

A shout from Thor forced him to look to his side just in time to see a black arrow slice through Clint's hand.

Tony was losing, and he knew it. This Iron Man whatever was kicking his ass. He continued to shoot repeatedly at the robot, but none of it seemed to be having any effect. It just stalked slowly closer towards him, deflecting every blow, its red eyes glinting as if mocking him.

He couldn't help the dark thought forming in the back of his brain. Was this how he was going to die?

Steve's android was somewhere in the fog ahead. Familiar colors sparked across his vision in sudden bursts through the smoke – red, blue, red, more blue – as the thing zig-zagged towards him. It was so fast he could barely follow it. The only thing he could see clearly were the red eyes– the menacing red eyes that flashed every time you met their gaze. And he knew just by looking that those eyes meant to kill.

He waited expectantly, waiting for it to come charging at him through the smoke. Bruce had momentarily freed himself from the thing, but Steve knew he needed help. He could hear Tony struggling, and Clint hadn't even had time to pull the arrow out of his hand before he'd had to face down Robot Hawkeye. He'd been trying to chase down his android for what felt like hours, but it was faster than him. Much faster. It had already attacked him dozens of times, jumping out of the smoke and lunging at him before he could even prepare himself. His suit was in ribbons and blood dripped from a million cuts along his body.

Suddenly, something came slicing through the smoke and hit him square in the chest, knocking him backwards with such force that the breath flew from his lungs.

His shield. God, so this was what it felt like. He fell to the ground with a sickening crunch and lay there, momentarily paralyzed. This shield felt even heavier than his – Had they used a different material? What could be more durable than vibranium?

It felt like he had broken ribs. A super soldier with broken ribs? How did that work? Could he even break his ribs? Would they heal from the serum?

He was too disoriented to think properly.

The thing was close. He could hear it nearing, its metallic feet hitting the ground at an entire impossibly and inhuman speed.

Oh, God. What if he couldn't beat it? He'd thrown his shield once, with an only moderately satisfying crunch of metal as it made contact with the robot, and he hadn't been able to find it again. As he stood up, he sent a silent prayer to the sky to keep the others safe, because he knew this might very well be the end.

He heard the shield scrape the ground somewhere close as the thing picked it up. He raised his bloody fists, knowing this was probably the end for him.

Never had he thought he'd lose a battle like this. Completely outmatched by the most unexpected of opponents – himself.

Tony was still holding on, and it looked like he was finally inflicting some damage on his opponent. He'd managed to mostly disarm the thing (he'd never seen so many explosives in his life) but he feared that it held much more weaponry than what he could see from the exterior.

Thor was having a little more luck with his android, something that Tony was silently thanking the rest of the Norse gods for. Whoever these people were, it seemed they couldn't build a robot that was a proper match for a demi-god.

But maybe that wasn't their goal. Time suddenly slowed as a cold realization crept through Tony. He looked over to see Thor lifting his hammer to deliver the final blow to the android, now in a crumpled mess on the street.

Maybe they hadn't built that robot to kill Thor. Maybe they'd built it knowing that he would destroy it. And that meant…

He screamed and then the explosion sounded, rocketing him backwards at an impossible speed before he was swallowed in darkness.

Somewhere, Steve heard Tony scream his name. Before he could even think to respond, his feet were being lifted off the ground and he was flying towards a nearby building at a speed he was sure even Thor couldn't duplicate. His mouth formed Tony's name and he thought he screamed for him, but then the wall was coming faster and faster and…

Natasha bent her head, tears leaking silently out of her eyes.

"I said, TURN IT OFF!" she screamed, raising her head to look at the television before her.

The entire picture on the screen was engulfed in smoke; the street wasn't even visible, and she didn't want it to be. She shut her eyes, the events she had just witnessed playing on a sickening loop in her mind.

She didn't want to see Steve's body from where it would be lying crumpled at the bottom of the brick building he'd slammed into at a deadly speed. She didn't want to see Tony's remains, which would be completely incinerated thanks to the bomb the destruction of Thor's robot had set off less than three feet from him. She didn't want to see Bruce, who would now undoubtedly be in his human form, lying bloodied and dead on the sidewalk. And she certainly didn't want to see Clint, who would be lying broken and lifeless on the street after his fall from the top of a six-story building, the arrow still embedded in his hand.

Author's Note: Um. Hi.




But hey, you need to remember these two things:

1. This is not the end of the story.

2. I'm not the type to kill off main characters.


Yours always,