A murderous attack on Pepper Potts leaves one Avenger critically injured and the rest looking for answers — and revenge. Features the team from my story collection "A Very Good Team."

A/N: Takes place before Coulson's reappearance.


Chapter 1: Attack

Pepper Potts left Stark Industries offices in Avengers Tower for a lunch meeting at her favorite bistro just around the corner.

Half a block from the main exit, she was swarmed by a mass of reporters shouting questions about Tony Stark's latest escapade. They were yelling, shoving, jostling. Pepper was used to the media, but this was frighteningly aggressive behavior. And then Pepper realized she didn't know any of the pushy reporters surrounding her. Not one … single … person. Furthermore, none of them held a notebook or microphone and only one had a camera.

Now Pepper was really frightened. "Leave me alone. Help! Help!" she shouted.

Passersby were uncertain. Most dodged away from the bellicose mob. A few pulled out cellphones to report the trouble. One businessman protested the unseemly behavior and was knocked to the ground and kicked for his efforts.

Then a blond juggernaut plowed into the crowd.

Dressed anonymously in gray sweats, Steve Rogers had left Avengers Tower by the employee entrance. He was jogging on the next block when his serum-enhanced hearing picked up a cry for help. He was already running flat out when he recognized the voice.

He bulled into the crowd, shoving people aside to get to his friend. He only used a fraction of his strength, because he thought he was dealing with overzealous reporters, until he reached Pepper. She clung to his safe solidity gratefully and panted that she thought they were fakes.

Steve spun to face the enemy, putting Pepper behind him. He saw a man lift a camera. Expecting the flash of sunlight on the lens, he was surprised to see a hole, more like a gun barrel, pointed at his friend's face.

As the man's finger pressed the shutter, Steve's hand shot out to grab the camera. A steel dart three inches long struck deep into his palm instead of Pepper's face.

It burned like a hot coal, but ignoring pain was one of Captain America's strengths. He continued his attack, crushing the camera in his powerful hand, not caring that the action drove the spike deeper until it protruded from the back of his hand.

The burning began to dissolve into numbness. Not good. Steve had to finish this fast. He spun, holding the camera at arm's length, using it to club down anyone within reach. Three men fell. The others took to their heels as the wail of approaching police cars was drowned by the roar of Iron Man's repulsors. Summoned by Jarvis, Hawkeye and Black Widow ran from the building, but the crowd was scattered now. No one could tell the fleeing attackers from the terrified bystanders.

The numbness spread up Steve's arm, into his throat. He began to wheeze, reminded of the old days when pneumonia had nearly claimed his small, asthmatic body. The numbness roared like an express train down his spine. His legs wobbled. He fell awkwardly, almost comically, on his behind.

"Steve!" Pepper exclaimed.

Tony Stark turned from making sure she was unhurt. "Steve, are you all right?"

Steve couldn't answer. His face was numb. His jaw wouldn't work. With eyes huge, baffled and frightened, all he could do was hold out his wounded palm, like a toddler showing a thorn in his hand.

Tony bit back a curse when he saw the dart, now driven clear through Steve's hand. A sticky red coating glistened ominously.

"Jarvis, what is that?"

"The primary component appears to be curare, sir," the AI analyzed the film.

Curare, that was poison. That was bad, Steve thought dimly, as the numbness reached his brain and everything went dark.

To be continued