Disclaimer: Avengers belong to Marvel.
Tension was thick in the air. Everyone in the clearing was struck into immobility.
As his moniker would suggest, Tweedle Dumber was a complete idiot and the first to break the tense standoff by taking aim at the Hulk with his gun.
"Stay back!" Tweedle Dumber yelled, voice trembling with fear. The Hulk – and wow, AON had seriously underestimated how big the guy would be! – let out a deep roar. Tweedle Dumber took the shot and gulped nervously when the bullet simply bounced off of the Hulk's heavily muscled chest.
The Hulk took a menacing step forward and, in response, Tweedle Dumber pulled AON in front of him as a shield. The soldier then decided to aim the gun at the teenager instead.
The Hulk froze, his large eyes narrowing at the sight. His big green hands clenched into fists at his side and he growled menacingly.
"Let go," the Hulk snarled.
"No," Tweedle Dumber yelled back, his voice cracking embarrassingly as he pulled AON a step further backwards. "You stay away or I'll shoot him!"
"You idiot!" Jacobs hissed from beside them. "You can't reason with the monster!"
"You better hope that he can, or else you three are dead," AON drawled out, trying to maintain his calm facade.
His injured arm felt like it was on fire, but he refused to let the pain distract him. Reinforcement may have arrived, but he wasn't out of danger yet. As happy as AON was to see the big guy, he couldn't help but feel like one of the SHIELD agents would have been more appropriate back up. The Hulk was all about brute force, not finesse.
"Stay back!" Tweedle Dumber barked and the tension in the air ratcheted up another notch. AON took a shaky breath when he felt the nozzle of the gun press roughly against his temple.
Surprisingly enough, the Hulk obeyed the order and raised his hands in what was supposed to be, AON guessed, a placating manner. The big green guy shuffled a little to the right and Tweedle Dumber subconsciously moved to the left, Tweedle Dumb and Jacobs following suit.
The Hulk stalked to the side, seemingly frustrated with his lack of power in the situation. Tweedle Dumber mirrored his movements, never letting the Hulk get any closer.
"We need to get out of here!" Jacobs said nervously. He made sure to keep Tweedle Dumber and AON in between himself and the Hulk. "The rest of the Avengers will be here soon."
"Shut up!" Tweedle Dumber hissed, continuing to circle the Hulk. "I'll handle this."
AON snorted a laugh and then yelped when Tweedle Dumber tightened his grip around AON's injured arm. The Hulk growled but maintained the same distance.
"Now, you just stay away," Tweedle Dumber ordered, his voice a little more calm now that he realized the Hulk wasn't going to charge them while AON was in danger. "We're going to leave and take the kid with us. Once we know we're safe, we'll let him go. Alright?"
"No," the Hulk grunted, stalking to the side.
"No?!" Tweedle Dumber asked with a hysterical edge to his voice. "What do you mean no?!"
"No," the Hulk took one more step, positioning himself in front of the jeep – the captors' quickest escape route. "You can't leave."
"Shit," Jacobs cursed, realizing they had been outmaneuvered. AON tried not to laugh. Who knew the Hulk could be so good at strategy?
"Move away from the vehicle," Tweedle Dumber yelled, trying to regain some control over the situation.
In response, the Hulk turned towards the jeep and lifted one giant fist. He smashed his fist into the front of the vehicle and the frame crumpled under the blow. One hit to the side and the jeep toppled over. Once he was done with his demolition, the Hulk turned back to face them with a satisfied grin on his face.
"You can't leave," the Hulk repeated.
While AON fully supported scaring the shit out of his idiotic captors, he also knew that riling them up while a gun was pointed straight at his head might not be the best solution. He really hoped that there was more to the rescue plan than destroying the get-away car.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Tweedle Dumber hissed, his nerves completely shaken. "What do we do now?" He turned towards the other two idiots and AON felt the gun drop slightly in the air. Before AON could even heave a breath of relief, a sickening crunch and then two gunshots blasted through the air.
AON jumped in shock, swerving around to see what had happened. All three of his captors were on the ground, sporting various injuries. Tweedle Dumb had a gunshot to the knee. Jacobs had a gunshot to the arm. Tweedle Dumber had an arrow sticking out of the shoulder of his firing arm; the gun lay innocently on the ground at AON's feet.
"Holy shit," the teenager gasped. He looked up to see Clint – and yeah, now that he realized they had actually come for him, he let that final barrier keeping them at a distance crumble away – stepping out from the tree line. The rest of the Avengers and Coulson soon followed. "Hey guys," AON smiled shakily, giving a little half-wave with his uninjured arm. "Thanks for the- woah!" AON yelled as he was suddenly lifted off the ground.
He found himself being held gently in the Hulk's arms. The big green guy was looking him over carefully, frowning at the blood trickling down the teenager's arm.
"Hurt," the Hulk grunted and walked over towards the rest of the team. "Fix," he ordered, setting AON back onto his feet in front of Coulson. The Hulk waited for Coulson to nod in understanding before stalking over to the captured men. Slightly strained laughter broke out when the Hulk growled at the prisoners and they all started begging for mercy.
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The trek back to SHIELD had been…interesting. Apparently a bullet wound – and it was a flesh wound, really – to the arm meant that AON was incapable of using his legs. Rogers had insisted that Thor fly AON back to the helicopter while the rest of the team escorted their prisoners there by foot. The teenager had gone to protest, but a glance at the stern faces of the rest of the Avengers had him snapping his mouth closed.
Coulson had quickly bandaged AON's arm using his tie and then Thor had picked the teenager up into his arms. AON was so exhausted that he ended up drifting off in the god's secure hold. Next thing he knew, AON was waking up to a de-Hulked Bruce nudging him awake and making him drink a huge cup of water.
The chopper ride had been slightly tense, AON too tired to lighten the mood by poking fun at everyone's solemn faces. The three prisoners tried bargaining for leniency but Natasha just pulled out her long boot-knife to sharpen and they promptly shut up. Eventually, the thub thub thub of the copter blades lulled the teenager back to sleep.
By the time they arrived back at SHIELD, AON felt a little more rested, but no less exhausted. This entire ordeal, despite only spanning over one day, seemed to have taken forever.
As soon as the group walked back into SHIELD, a large conglomerate of people assaulted them. ENO took one look at AON's bloodied appearance and then promptly marched over to the prisoners. Out of nowhere she produced her taser and Clint had the thoughtfulness to release his hold on Jacobs just before she tased the man. Darcy – because he couldn't possibly call her Enemy Number One after she tased a guy in his defense, could he? – gave a satisfied nod at Jacobs writhing in pain on the ground and then turned back to AON.
"AON!" Darcy hug-attacked the teenager, mindful enough of his injury to avoid jarring it. "I can't believe they hurt my poor baby," she said as she stroked his hair.
AON settled into Dacry's arms for a moment, a bone-deep weariness washing over him. He only pulled back when he felt a nudge to his side. The teenager turned to see Dummy beside. The bot held a band-aid in its outstretched claw. AON shook his head with a laugh and knelt down next to the robot.
"Thanks, Dummy," he patted the robot affectionately, voice cracking with emotion. He was glad that everyone averted their eyes to give him a moment to pull himself together once more.
"Alright," Fury took charge of the situation. "I want those men put into holding cells until I have the time to deal with them. Ms. Lewis, would you kindly escort Mr. Stark to medical?" AON blinked in shock at being addressed as Mr. Stark but allowed himself to be led out of the room by Darcy.
The next few hours were a blank gap in the teenager's memory. He vaguely remembered Darcy threatening to maim the medical staff if they didn't fix him up immediately and then a needle had pierced his arm and he promptly passed out. Once the sedatives faded from his system and AON was roused back into consciousness, he took stock of his surroundings.
Bruce was sprawled out in the chair next to him, one hand linked with Dummy's claw. The doctor was dressed in SHIELD standard sweats and a t-shirt and his glasses were slipping down the bridge of his nose. Clint and Coulson were standing like sentinels by the door, both fully awake and expressions closed off.
"Hey," AON groaned as he pushed himself up into a seated position.
Bruce startled and blinked rapidly to clear his sleep-cloudy eyes. Dummy whirred to life and began chirping happily up at him. AON gave his bot a comforting pat and then settled back onto the bed. He looked down at his arm and saw that it was neatly bandaged. His fingers automatically went to remove the bandage so he could assess the damage himself, but a steady hand halted his movements.
"Don't," Bruce ordered in a low voice. "Dr. Harlow cleaned and stitched up your wound. She said no lasting muscle damage should result, but you will have one hell of a scar."
AON assessed the somber mood in the room and then shrugged with a grin on his face. "Scars are sexy, right?" The teenager tried to joke but his audience wasn't very receptive. "God," he sighed dramatically, "what's with all the frowny faces? We beat the bad guys! Shouldn't you all be happy?!"
"AON…" Bruce shook his head, face set in a deep frown. "You were kidnapped and hurt because of –" the doctor's hands curled into tight fists in his lap, "because of me."
"No!" AON shouted, pointing an accusing finger at the doctor. "You do not get to blame yourself for this! This whole," the teenager flailed his arms about, "mess is because of General Crazy, not you!"
"General Ross wanted me," Bruce said through gritted teeth. "And he used you to try and get me."
"I don't blame you," AON protested and the doctor lurched to his feet as he began to angrily pace the length of the room. Clint and Coulson remained unmoving, but their eyes watched the doctor carefully.
"You should blame me," Bruce said firmly.
"But I don't," AON reaffirmed.
"He used you to get to me! How do I even begin to apologize for-"
"Bruce! I don't want you to apologize!" AON shouted over Bruce's self-critical rant and the doctor halted in his tracks. AON couldn't tell if he stopped because of the shock of being addressed as Bruce, or if it was because of the desperation in AON's voice.
"Don't apologize," AON repeated, softer this time. "He used me to get to you? That means you care enough to be concerned about what happens to me." The teenager dropped his eyes to his lap, unable to meet Bruce's stunned gaze. "I've never been important enough to someone that I could be used against them," AON admitted, voice heartbreakingly vulnerable.
There was a moment of strained silence and then AON heard the shuffling of feet. A warm hand clasped around his neck and the teenager willingly leaned into the embrace the doctor offered.
"Alright," the Bruce said softly. "I'm not sorry."
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"They're all going to miss you, you know."
AON stilled, his task of packing up his stuff momentarily forgotten. He nodded his head and turned to face Coulson. "I know."
The SHIELD agent entered the room and studied the teenager carefully. "You understand why you can't stay at SHIELD."
Before the General Ross incident, AON would have said no, no he didn't understand. Because as much as it seemed like people here cared about him, they didn't care enough to keep him.
After… he knew better. Now he knew that it was because they cared so much that they were letting him go. Staying at SHIELD would have decided the rest of AON's life for him. Going with Stane – becoming Anthony Stark – gave him the freedom to find his own path. He was going to college – MIT to be exact – and could study whatever he wanted. He could be a doctor or a researcher or even a freaking writer! And if he ended up deciding he wanted to work for SHIELD…well, it will have been his decision.
Just because he was leaving SHIELD, it didn't mean he was leaving his new, unexpected, insane but extraordinary family.
"Yeah," the teenager smiled, turning around to pick his duffel up off the bed. "I understand," he zipped up the duffel bag and then heaved it over his shoulder.
The two walked in companionable silence to the vehicle annex. The teenager felt his heart warm when he saw the large group of people gathered to see him off. A hand at his elbow stopped the teenager and he turned to Coulson with a questioning look.
"I'll be keeping an eye on you." Coulson smirked at the teenager and then began to walk forward again. "I am still your handler, after all."
AON grinned at Coulson's retreating back before trailing after him. As he approached, Darcy snapped her fingers and a junior SHIELD agent stepped forward to relieve AON of his duffel bag. His stuff was packed into a black SUV that Stane and Jarvis were standing beside. He glanced towards the trailer where Dummy had been safely placed and then turned to say goodbye to his family.
Before he could utter a single word, Darcy pulled him into a smothering hug and smashed his face to her ample bosom. After a second, he managed to pry himself loose from her grasp. "Bye, Darcy," AON said with a laugh.
"Did you hear that?! He called me Darcy! That means he likes me!" The girl screamed happily, tugging at Dr. Foster's arm. Jane just rolled her eyes and then pulled AON into a hug with a warm smile on her face. She told him to keep in touch and AON – who still had a hard time believing he had been given the chance to meet such a brilliant scientist – promised he would.
Thor swept the teenager into a huge bear hug and only set AON down when Jane reminded him that the teenager needed to breath. Steve gave AON a warm handshake and told the teenager he was a good man for handling everything that had happened with such grace.
AON swallowed nervously when Natasha reached down to pull out her boot-knife. When she handed it to him as a parting gift with a small smile on her face, AON gave her a wide grin and took the knife with care. Darcy snapped her fingers again and another junior agent retrieved the knife to pack it away with the rest of his stuff.
Clint held his hand out for a handshake but AON just ignored it and pulled the man into a tight hug. "Thanks for everything, especially the coffee," AON said, earning a barked laugh from the archer.
"No problem," Clint chuckled and patted AON on the back before releasing him.
Bruce pulled AON into another hug and then held him at arms length before he started in on the lecture. "Eat legitimate meals. You can't survive on just coffee. I know some of your courses are going to seem too easy and possibly boring, but try not to antagonize your professors. Behave for Mr. Stane and Jarvis; I'll hear about it if you're causing trouble. Make-"
"Bruce," AON interrupted with a laugh. "Stop worrying, I can take care of myself."
"You can," Bruce agreed with a nod. "But you know we're here for you if you ever need help."
AON grinned as he glanced down the line of people he'd already said goodbye to. "I know."
With a final squeeze to the teenager's shoulders, Bruce let AON go.
The teenager turned around and walked over to the vehicle waiting on him. He nodded in greeting to Stane and Jarvis and then pulled the back door open. Just as he was about to climb in, Darcy yelled out "Bye, AON!"
The teenager looked back to the collection of people watching him and grinned.
"Call me Tony," he yelled back with a wave before sliding into the SUV and pulling the door shut behind him.