A/N It was ages ago that I saw a fantastic series of paintings by brilcrist on tumblr, all depicting the Avengers as angels. I thought it was a great AU, but never quite got around to writing it-until now, that is. I've written the first third of what I've outlined as a fifteen-chapter, and I've chosen that I may or may not continue it beyond that based on the feedback that I receive. So, if you like this, LET ME KNOW! After five chapters are posted, I'll decide whether or not more will be written.
Disclaimer I don't own the Avengers or any associated characters, events, etc. Additionally, the cover image used is not mine, but rather property of brilcrist (on tumblr and deviantART) and will be taken down at request.
Only the children were screaming.
It was foolish, Pastor Nicholas Fury thought bitterly as he pulled his long coat tighter around him, that people should even bring their children to church at such a late hour. They never paid attention, anyways, but it was useless to try and school them into better behavior when they were already exhausted.
He had been exhausted. Exhausted enough to allow himself a night away from Holy Shield Church, to leave everything to his associate pastor, Phil Coulson. Coulson was good—devout, and he did his work well—but of course, Fury reflected as he stood before Holy Shield, of course it would be a night when he himself was away that this would happen.
Of course, he wasn't exactly sure what this was, yet.
The church was a large building, old and strong, crafted of dark and surprisingly resilient wood on the sides, paler siding on the front. It was a rather out-of-place sight in the middle of the sleek city, but it was home—the closest thing to home that Fury ever had. Its steeple cut a clean, pure path into the sky, a pearly streak before the tapestry of darkness, and a black cross hung at its front, clear against the lighter material.
It would have looked normal, even peaceful, if not for the crowds of people pouring rapidly out of it.
The entire evening service, or so it seemed. Mothers wrapped tight arms around wailing children, while other adults shoved those nearby them aside in their haste to escape. Fury's stomach clenched briefly—could it be a fire? Was his beloved church to be destroyed?—but, no, there wasn't a lick of flame or wisp of smoke anywhere in sight. Besides, Coulson wouldn't have called him in for something like that.
"Fury? Do you know what's going on?"
Fury turned to see Maria Hill, a priestess of the church, sprinting out of her own car, her dark hair hastily pinned up and her blue eyes wide with alarm. So Coulson had called her in, as well. He shook his head and gestured that she come closer, speaking rapidly.
"Make sure that everyone gets out safely, understand? Check the bathrooms, closets, everything. I don't want a single living soul in this church who doesn't work under me."
"Pastor. You came."
Fury, who had been moving towards the door as he spoke, looked up to see the familiar face of Phil Coulson before him—the man was standing at attention, absentmindedly ushering people out with his hands.
"What's going on?" Fury demanded.
"I can't say. Selvig—he was in the basement, with… it. And then there was noise, and… some sort explosion, I—"
"He's still down there?"
Coulson hesitated, apparently on the verge of saying more, then gave terse nod. "Yes, sir."
"I'm going down. You and Hill clear this place out. It needs to be empty. This could be dangerous—very dangerous. Understood?"
Without further hesitation, he continued through the tall, narrow doors, his coat billowing in the cool night breeze. Almost none of the church's attendees recognized him out of his usual pastoral robes—either that, or they were simply too distracted to pay any heed to the faces passing them by; after all, it was hard to mistake the eye patch affixed over the left side of Fury's face, a remnant of a long-ago incident. An incident that had led to Holy Shield Church being the only one in the nation—probably in the world—with a definite connection to angels.
The rest of the Catholic churches, of course, had no idea. The angels were a secret that Holy Shield kept to itself, for a number of reasons—the simplest of them being that the creatures themselves desired disguise, anonymity. They may have chosen to bless this single New York church with their presence, but that didn't mean they wanted to be known across the country, for their veil of mystery to be stripped away and reveal the creatures underneath. As long as Fury and the rest didn't publicize them, they continued to connect to the church, and that was what mattered.
And it was, undoubtedly, something connected to them that was going on now. Fury wasn't sure whether to positively or negatively anticipate this as he pounded through the thin, dark hallways of the ancient building, making his way to the back stairs—as Coulson had said, Selvig, another particularly good priest, was currently in the basement, and that was where he was headed now.
The usually brilliant stained glass windows lining the dark-wooded walls were dark and hollow-looking in the nearly abandoned building, and the candles that Fury himself lit each evening were out, every single one of them, some with thin whispers of smoke still trailing from their wicks. Something about the entire place was undeniably dark, eerie, and the barely-developed cement stairs in the back which he descended now, being damp and chilled as always, only lent to the impression.
Like Coulson had promised, Erik Selvig stood in the shadowed room, lit only by a single electric light fixture dangling from the ceiling. His back was to Fury, and he was facing a table—a table that housed an artifact very familiar to Fury.
"The Tesseract?" he demanded, pacing forwards. Selvig barely looked surprised as he turned around—he was still in his robes from an earlier service, and a light layer of sweat touched his forehead under a shock of gray hair.
"Pastor," Selvig greeted him, his voice rasping and tense. "Yes, it—it began behaving strangely, I can't—"
"Behaving? It's an inanimate object, Selvig." Fury paced over to the table, ignoring as Selvig drew away and reaching out to place his hands on either side of the object sitting there.
The Tesseract wasn't the source of the church's power, but rather a token of it—it had appeared a couple of months ago, in this exact place, without explanation. Visually, it was small enough—a cube perhaps three square inches per side, and brilliantly gold. Gold beyond gold—shining brighter than the metal itself, glimmering tendrils seeming to slip off wherever light touched it. Its function was unknown, at least to those in Holy Shield, but it was unquestionable that it had been a gift from the angels, and they hadn't questioned that, hadn't even touched it since its delivery. It had been practically forgotten, stored here in the basement.
Now, however, it was ready to make itself noticed.
"We don't know what it is," Selvig pointed out, leaning over Fury's shoulder to get a better look at the glimmering object. Fury lifted his hands and moved them close to the cube's surface, frowning slightly as a tingle of warmth brushed against his skin.
"Radiating heat," he mused.
"Not just radiating it. The thing has been heating up more and more—not stopping at all. If it increases much more, it's going to set the place on fire. And that's not all—look, there! Right now!"
Fury hadn't needed Selvig's indication to see what was happening—within the cube itself, at an imbalanced angle that seemed to be another dimension entirely, there was a twist of light—pure white light, flexing and twirling playfully under and within the bronzed surface. In sync with the flash, another wave of heat rolled off of the cube, this one more intense than the last.
"Bizarre," Fury breathed to himself, but was cut off by the sharp, unmistakable noise of flapping wings, as well as a muffled cry of alarm from Selvig. A small smirk curled the pastor's mouth, and he looked up, folding his hands behind his back.
"Uriel," he greeted evenly.
Standing on the other side of the long, low room, looking as if he'd been there all along, was a third man—younger than Fury and Selvig, with close-cropped brown hair and a leanly muscled frame. Something flashed briefly behind his shoulders—something massive and white—but vanished within the space of blink, not giving Fury any time to focus on it.
"Let me see it," the brown-haired man demanded, pacing towards them. Fury inclined his head slightly and stepped back, while Selvig continued to sputter in disbelief.
"But—but that's—but he wasn't—"
"Selvig," Fury said evenly, beginning to smirk, "this is Uriel. Uriel, Erik Selvig."
"A pleasure." Uriel's tone was resonant, somehow; of normal pitch, and yet heavy, pressing in almost painfully on the eardrums even as he spoke at a hushed volume. There was an odd quality to him physically, as well—in the corner of one's eye, he seemed to almost change shape, to grow and twist, though the unsteady image was erased as soon as he was brought back into focus.
"Uriel is an angel—the archer of Heaven," Fury elaborated plainly, with little elaboration. A small, shocked exhalation emerged from Selvig's lips. Uriel turned and bent in, examining the Tesseract carefully, while Fury continued to speak. "One of those particularly connected to the church. He has appeared to our benefit several times in the past, and we owe him more than is imaginable. You did know, of course, about our supernatural connections?"
"An—an angel," Selvig breathed again, slowly lowering to his knees. "I—"
"Get up, man, we don't have time for this," Uriel barked. "Fury, when did it start?"
"Maybe half an hour ago," Fury replied evenly while Selvig scrambled to his feet.
"And you haven't touched it?"
"Then nothing is wrong with it from this end," Uriel mused softly. Fury frowned slightly, and then, all at once, the angel's eyes flew wide, and he was swiftly stepping backwards—each of his movements had a lithe grace to them, so that even the hasty motion was more flowing than stumbling. "The other side must be coming."
"The other side?" Fury's frown deepened, and Uriel dipped his head in a nod, his shoulders flexing as his arms extended protectively, blocking the Tesseract from the other two men.
"The Tesseract isn't just a shiny brick, you know, Pastor. This object is a gateway to Hell."
Selvig stifled a whimper as the muscles of Uriel's back, clear under his thin, dark jacket, contracted almost spasmodically. Then two billowing curtains of light shot from them—thin, delicate, and pure, pure white. It took the space of two seconds for them to resolve themselves into definite shapes—slender wings, reaching several feet in either direction, translucent and somehow metaphysical, even in their powerful solidity. Even Fury's single eye widened at the sight—he had seen angels' wings before, of course, but it had been years, and it was all too easy to forget just how brightly they shown.
"He's coming!" Uriel bellowed, and now his voice was absolutely deafening, far too powerful to come from the single man that it apparently did. Fury stiffened, his fingers curling and cutting into his palms, as a pillar of light bloomed from the Tesseract—massive and blinding enough that both humans released twin yells, reaching up to turn away and block their eyes. Regardless, though, the light was still visible, burning through the wall of darkness, piercing and definite. A huge splintering noise came with it—the ceiling, Fury realized in horror, the thing was plunging into the very ceiling.
Less than five seconds passed, however, before everything went dark, leaving only silver afterimages dancing behind Fury's eyelid. He cracked it open nervously, now barely noticing the vividness of Uriel's wings in contrast to what had just emerged from the Tesseract. It took several seconds of blinking to reveal what was standing in the splintered remains of the table that had held it—the holy object itself, he noted, was cast off to the side; dusty and light amidst the splinters of wood that surrounded its small form.
There was a man where the blazing light had been—a man clothed in a black suit, with greasy shoulder-length hair hanging before his pale face and hands clenched at his sides, knuckles whitened and almost bluish. As Fury and Selvig watched in wonder, the strange new person's chest heaved slightly with a harsh breath, and his head tilted up—just enough to reveal rather soft features pulled together by wide, dark-ringed eyes, and it was the eyes that drew Fury's breath from his lungs, paralyzed him—they were gold; the very gold, in fact, of the Tesseract, blazing and practically glowing in the greasy hollows of his skin.
"Stay back," Uriel began, his feathers twitching in defense as the muscles of his wings tensed near the shoulders.
The intruder rose to his full height, disregarding the angel and smiling slowly, brutally. His teeth gleamed pure white against his dirty skin. "Brother," he breathed—his voice was soft, accented, and carried the same sort of resounding tenor in it as Uriel's. "Oh, it has been a while."
Then an echoing crack filled the small room, and massive shadows lit behind the newcomer—wide, pulsing shapes that soon solidified themselves into wings, as well. Wings slightly smaller than Uriel's, their edges curved more delicately, wickedly, and seeming to be made of smoke rather than light. Selvig gasped, but Fury was beyond disbelief—he simply watched, on edge, intent. The dark-haired being launched himself forward, and the wings beat heavily as he thrust himself across the room, arms forcing forwards a staff that was suddenly clutched in his hands—golden as his eyes, long and slender and deadly, with a curved silver blade jutting from its intricately designed head. Fury opened his mouth to release a pointless warning, but it was too late—the man extended the staff, just enough for it to brush against Uriel's chest, pricking against the fabric of the jacket there.
Fury stumbled backwards, nearly hitting the wall, as the angel's back stiffened and straightened, his wings folding back into invisibility. "Selvig!" he snarled, but the priest stood silently, staring as Uriel slowly took a step forwards, moving to stand beside the stranger. His eyes were no longer the pale gray-blue of before—now they glowed with a faint, smoldering golden light, like those of the figure beside him, but with far less intensity.
As Fury gazed on in mute horror, the man proceeded to prod the same staff into Selvig's chest, a wicked smirk curving his lips as the priest tensed and his eyes began to shine with a dull golden hint. And then, with his opposition successfully made docile, the staff-bearer turned, finally staring Fury head-on, glowing gold eyes to dark brown.
"Who are you?" Fury snarled. Something inside of him stung with fear and confusion—he'd lost his allies, lost the angel who'd been defending Holy Shield for decades—but he didn't dare to let the doubt slip into his speech. He had to be strong. Confident. He had to, at the very least, bide their time until Hill and Coulson could help everyone out of the church.
"A holy man," was the whispered response. "You are, that is. I can see it in you… faith, bitter faith. You would know me, I believe, as Lucifer."
"Lucifer," Fury repeated, his chest seeming to freeze into solid ice. Lucifer. The Devil. Satan. Everything he'd ever been taught to fear—everything he'd ever dreaded, prayed to avoid, sought defense from. Lucifer.
"Light-bearer," Lucifer crooned, tilting his staff and running a pale finger along its sharpened edge, "that's what it means."
"So I've heard. What, are you fresh out of hell? Ready to wreak havoc on the world and send us screaming into devastation?"
"Nearly, but no need to be so hasty, now, dear man. It is not pure destruction that I desire upon your race… I have had time, far too much time, to think better of myself. Time over which Earth has only succeeded in working itself farther into the depths of hopeless chaos. It needs to be tamed… tamed like a wild beast, an analogy that I believe you primitive creatures can comprehend."
"And you're going to take the reins?"
"Whoever else?" Lucifer turned and began to pace up and down the room, his polished shoes tapping on the splintered floor. At an apparently silent signal, Uriel and Selvig moved to the staircase, standing at each side as if to guard it. After a brief hesitation, Fury took it as permission to move forwards, and did so—keeping his steps light and quick, he headed for the Tesseract and scooped it up immediately, wincing at the fading but still sharp heat against the exposed skin of his palms. Disregarding everything that Uriel had said, he knew that he couldn't let Lucifer keep the artifact now—it was best that it was in his possession, surely, than no one's at all.
"It isn't going to work, you know," Fury growled. "Humanity is much stronger than creatures like you wish to think."
"Creatures like me?" Lucifer spun delicately on his heel, an almost gentle smirk creasing his thin mouth. "Oh, but I am the creature, don't you see? Everything that you fear… everything that your people have ever feared. You have created this entire monument, and so many thousands like it"—his hands tilted upwards, as if to encompass the church itself—"to avoid me and my children, my demons. But we are all returning now, you see—it is high time that the human race learns its place, and the angels' foolish placement of their Tesseract on this weak planet… why, never could I have imagined that I'd receive such a perfect opportunity."
"But humans are going to fight," Fury tried. He was only stalling now—trying to give Coulson and Hill as much time as he possibly could. "They will stand against you, and I have to say, I'm pretty damn sure that they'll find a way to succeed."
"Succeed? Against me?" Lucifer laughed—a high, chilling sound. "Oh, what a sweet notion; however, I cannot help but fear you to be brutally wrong."
"Lord," Selvig spoke up. Fury glanced over, his stomach twisting at the sight of his colleague's strange golden eyes. "He's delaying us—he's trying to let the others escape, but this place is about to blow."
"So it is." Lucifer's eyes flickered upwards briefly, scoping out the half-caved ceiling, which was beginning to dissolve into cinders in a few select places. "And your fragile casing won't be able to handle the damage, will it? Very well. You will prove of use, and so we take our leave now, before you find yourself harmed. Come, now—both of you. Oh, but brother… if you could take care of the good pastor for us first."
For Fury had been leaning forward, moving towards the door in an attempt to at the very least take control of Selvig, make sure that Lucifer had no way to abduct him. Apparently, though, his attempt had not gone under the Devil's notice—Uriel, possessed by the goldenness, turned around, and then, out of seemingly nowhere, he was holding a bow—almost ghostly, as if woven of silver moonbeams, and yet far too solid—frighteningly so. It was a familiar weapon to Fury, one that he had seen the angel display in the past, but not one that he ever imagined to find himself stared down by.
Even knowing that Uriel's aim would be flawless, he tore himself away, wincing and trying desperately to avoid the swift path of the arrow released. However, perhaps possession had thrown the angel's aim off ever so slightly, because the dart only nicked his shoulder—enough to knock him backwards, send the Tesseract tumbling out of his hands and onto the cracked floor, but nothing more.
He drew in a deep breath, wincing against the sting, but by the time he'd heaved himself into a sitting position, Lucifer was scooping up the Tesseract with apparent painlessness, and then he seemed to walk into nothing—simply vanish; there one moment, entirely gone the next. Fury glanced over towards the staircase, but it was empty, as well—Selvig and Uriel, likewise, had disappeared.
He exhaled, coughing on smoke that was beginning to gather around the room, and stood up shakily. The cut from Uriel's arrow burned unnaturally, but he managed to ignore it, limping his way over to the stairs and dashing up them.
The entire church was in flames—brilliant orange flames, crisscrossing his path and gathering on the ceiling. For a minute, panic threatened to swamp his mind, but he pressed forwards, tracing the familiar path of soot-caked, smoke-stained hallways towards the front door and hoping, praying—praying harder than he ever had in his life—that everyone had made it out of the building safely.
It was too long before the door came into view—long enough, in fact, for the ceiling to begin crashing down behind him. Though it came from a few hallways back, the noise was deafening, swamping his senses in a blanket of harsh bangs and splintering wails. His head buzzed from the smoke, his legs beginning to shake, and it was with utter relief that he finally shoved out of the doors, shoulders trembling, lungs barely functioning under the weight of so much dark smoke.
"Father Fury!" an anxious, feminine voice sounded across the grassy lawn. He waved a hand, indicating that he was alright, and then realized who had spoken—Maria Hill, standing next to Phil Coulson on the sidewalk. Coulson had a cell phone clutched in his hand, and it was clear by the sirens wailing in the distance that he had just called the fire department.
"Did everyone make it out?" Fury demanded as soon as he reached them, coughing slightly between the words.
Coulson gave a quick nod. "Every single person. But, Father—what…"
"What the hell is happening?" Hill elaborated. Her eyes were wide, terrified-looking, and her chest heaved with elevated breaths.
"Hell, indeed," Fury muttered grimly. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat and turned back to stare upon the burning wreckage of his church once more. "You won't want to hear this, and I am sorry, but it's him—Lucifer."
Hill choked in utter disbelief, but Coulson jumped on immediately, speaking at such a rapid pace that it was a wonder he didn't trip over his own words.
"What? But that's not possible, he—that is, he can't possibly come to Earth. He's in Hell, and why would he ever choose Holy Shield, anyways, if—"
"Coulson—quiet," Fury commanded. The priest obeyed, looking away in a way that was almost ashamed. "It's because of the angels. Because of the Tesseract. Uriel came, one of our own… he explained that the thing is a damn key to Hell, and we've been housing it all this time. Lucifer used it, somehow, to come here… he took Uriel, and Selvig, too."
"Selvig is dead?" Hill questioned, her voice hushed.
He shook his head minutely. "Not dead. Possessed. Taken. I can't say for sure."
Both of the priests were finally silent, and Fury finally allowed himself to fully focus on the wreckage before him, what had become of his beloved church. Smoke was issuing for several yards into the sky beyond the burnt steeple, which was growing more and more blackened as he watched, the cross almost completely singed away. The wood was the most flammable, its subtle majesty seemingly replaced by a solid wall of hungry golden orange, and the lawn was catching, as well, innocently green blades of grass sucked into the whirling inferno of heat and light.
Slowly, gradually, the steeple began to give, tilting at a more and more precarious angle as great measure of blackened wood and siding slipped off of it, collapsing into piles of cinder. Then, all at once, it dropped, tearing itself off of the building and bursting into flames the second it hit the ground, half in the street.
"This is it," Fury voiced without a hint of doubt. Because he was sure. As much as he wished otherwise, he was utterly, completely positive of what he was seeing before him—what he had seen in the basement, in the eyes of the fallen angel. "What we've been warned about since the beginning. The Apocalypse has begun."