Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel, and please don't hurt me.

Steve snapped out of the blood-tinged haze immediately after Thor's enormous weight started to crush his torso, and with a grunt that took a hell of a lot more effort than it should have, he heaved the massive Asgardian off of his back...and caught sight of who had been beneath him. Tony was glaring at them both, livid and brown eyes sharp, and Steve felt his stomach twist. I am so couched for this...

"You are on the couch for a month, Mister."


"No, nuh-uh, not right now. I've got more important problems...Jarvis, run scans on the Winter Soldier, gimme his vitals, please." Steve's heart chilled at that, and as Tony pulled himself off the ground with a wince and a limp, he watched the engineer turn towards the battered remains of a little cute car...and the bloody body of James Barnes draped over it. Thor must have sensed the sudden change in him, because as his stomach voided itself and he retched up his breakfast, the enormous red cape settled over his shoulders, and a firm, broad hand smoothed over his back.

"Have faith, friend Steven...he lives, and by the powers of Asgard and Midgard, he will continue to do so." Steve's stomach still betrayed him, and he hadn't realized that the rest of his team had begun to arrive until Coulson was calling out orders, Clint bringing over a few dozen bottles of water and forcing Tony to sit down so that he could reassure himself that his favorite poker buddy wasn't dead. Natasha had taken three of the bottles as the Hulk sat down, and helped him drink while Loki curled in on himself, too tired to do more than slump against a slab of concrete that was overturned...and Steve felt sick. This was his team, his people...and he'd let them down. He'd been such a failure...

"Cap." He closed his eyes to Tony's voice, cringing at the irritation in it.


"Don't. Just...don't. Let's go home. For now...for everything that's happened...let's go home." He watched as Tony and Phil directed the agents, one of Clint's trainees bringing them the Quinjet while Thor helped a newly changed Bruce and the others on board, and Clint himself directing the medical units, getting IVs set up for a man that looked surprisingly like the archer, and for Bucky...He stood, clutching the warm red fabric around him, and felt hot shame crack his frozen heart. His team, at least, weren't the failures he was...Head down, he walked carefully to the Quinjet, not even fighting the gentle grasp that closed around one wrist as he sat down next to Thor.

"I'm sorry..."


"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon..."

"Hammer, I will wring your neck, so help me..."

"Chill out, man! Look, the two greatest genii in this hemisphere are totally gonna hack Tony's AI. Totally. Just...c'mon, have a little faith in me!" The Mandarin rubbed two fingers across his temple and tried, for a moment, to figure out just how this little runt of a man could ever have thought to rival Tony Stark. At least Stark had a mind vast enough to understand the complexities and beauty of the world around him, not simply what his money could buy. He scrolled through to the firewall again, inwardly impressed by the sheer perfection of it. This was something that not many humans could do; for that matter, not many non-humans, either. For all that designing and implementing weaponry and technology was the family line of business, it was quite clear that where Tony's true talent lay was here, in the incredible micro-world of coding. His AIs, for instance, absolutely enthralled him; they had will and choice, something no mere robot could ever hope to achieve. And that he had designed to be as such, and let them learn like an indulgent, if slightly demented father...

Gene shivered at the thought of those creations being weaponized.

"Then hack away; I shall survey the Tower's defense systems." He turned away and settled himself in the lotus position, his own computer hovering in the air from one of his rings, and scanned through what they had been able to break into so far. In terms of actual power, it was pathetic; they could hold off an attack indefinitely, but the main areas of the Tower were all they had available; anything of import was locked in the very heart below them, under the careful eye of JARVIS. And that, Gene realized, was something they hadn't taken into account; the AI was the very image of his creator, and a great deal more ruthless in dealing threats. Of the three strike teams he and Hammer had left the Hammertech factories with, one remained, standing sentry on this floor while the two genii sought a back door into the system...and just as The Mandarin suspected, there wasn't one. Not one that would open to them, at any rate. And Tony...for all his bluster, he was too wise to open it outside of the Tower. Too wise by half.

So, he set to watching instead, letting his mind fall into a half-trance that would keep him aware, and allow him a little rest. For there was a battle ahead...and unlike the nervous, hyper man behind him, Gene Khan had no interest in merely running away. It was time to fight.


"Everything is going as planned, my Lord." A thin smirk touched Thano's lips, and the newest Advisor fought the urge to cower, standing his ground gamely as he stared at the lord's feet. "The Soldier is captured, but the Captain is breaking...the archer is confused and his focus shattered, and the Iron Man..."

"Will find that his fortress is not his own any longer. Excellent...we shall have the mage, too...especially if our guest would be so kind to come out of the shadows?" He gestured to the tall figure of a woman, and as she stepped into the eldritch light, the Advisor blanched.

"Y-Your Majesty..."


"I am so, so sorry."

"Steve, relax, I'm fine. Squishy, but fine."

"But, I..." Tony shot him a look, one that even Steve wasn't willing to go up against, and the super soldier sighed, sitting back in Thor's grip and wishing that what exposed skin he saw on the engineer wasn't black and blue...most of it from the combined weights of both Steve and Thor falling on him. There was an ugly, bloody scrape on his right side, and an even nastier cut on his jaw line, a clean scar to add to the others that marred his handsome body. Steve just hung his head in shame. He'd let go, lost control...and Tony had suffered for it. Worse than that, Loki had been left utterly alone, and all but powerless, with a weakened Natasha and exhausted Hulk carrying the crazed sorceress on the floor behind them, chained down in both Loki's restraints and Mjolnjr resting on her stomach.

The mage himself was passed out next to Tony, head pillowed on the other man's lap as he lay limp in the Quinjet's seats. Bruce was at his feet, absently cradling a comatose Natasha, while Clint's back was all but ramrod straight as he piloted up front, Phil's familiar, easing voice carrying over the headsets and earpieces as he guided the still-shaken archer back to home...when Tony's head came up, and he laid Loki's head on the seat itself, standing up only a little wobbly as his fingers pressed at the com unit in his left ear.

"Repeat that again, Jarvis, over the Quinjet's coms." There was a pause, and then a faint sigh from the AI, and Steve felt his stomach churn again, this time with fear.

"There are intruders within the Tower's main habitat that I cannot pry loose. Your workshop, Doctor Banner's laboratory, and the weapons range between them are all I was able to lock down before there was a very nearly successful attempt at hacking my firewalls. I repeat, I was nearly taken over by an enemy system. All variables indicate that Avengers Tower is no longer safe for you or your comrades, sir."

"Son of a mother-fuckin'-bitch."

"My thoughts exactly, sir."


Loki...Loki, my child... The mage stirred in the seat, humming softly at the feel of an invisible hand stroking through his long hair.