sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-11-02 10:13 am

Avengers: Coulson's Eleven, 2/7

Title: Coulson's Eleven
Rating: PG-13
Summary: After Vanko destroyed the Stark Expo, SHIELD instituted a Superhuman Detention program, designed to capture and hold dangerous people -- dangerous people like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and others who made themselves noticeable. The superhumans SHIELD has imprisoned -- and some SHIELD agents themselves -- have other ideas about what constitutes 'dangerous'...

Chapter One

***

The first night Peter spent in the cell with him, Steve called a lights-out at ten pm and they got into their respective beds, across from each other in the little white room inside the bigger steel room. Steve was almost asleep when he heard the sound.

It sounded a little like a sob, though more like an animal noise of pain -- not quite crying, perhaps suppressed tears.

"Peter," he asked in a whisper. "You okay?"

There was a long silence before the answer. "I'm scared."

"You're here with me now. You don't have to be," Steve said, a little louder -- because after all, who was there to be woken by them? "They won't keep us here forever. They can't."

Peter laughed bitterly. "Remind me to tell you about Gitmo tomorrow. They can keep us here as long as they want."

"Why would they do that?" Steve asked.

"I don't know," Peter said. "They think we're dangerous, I think."

"Well, we are, but not like that."

"Maybe. I don't mind what happens to me. Not much, at least."

"Then what are you scared of?"

"I have friends. I have family. How do I know they're not locked up too because of what I did?" Peter asked. This was a different young man to the one Steve had spent all afternoon getting to know -- that one was brash and lippy and reminded him strongly of Bucky. Now he realized that had all been bravado. And, as in war, bravado often crumbled in the quiet and the dark.

"They wouldn't do that. Do your parents know who you are? Really, I mean."

"My aunt and uncle raised me. My uncle's dead, my aunt doesn't know. I never told anyone -- do you hear that?" Peter yelled, pushing himself up on his elbows to shout at the ceiling. They knew they were being listened to, being watched. "Nobody knows, you assholes! If you've got them you might as well let them go!"

"Peter."

Peter subsided angrily. "Even if they're still free, what if they don't know where I've gone? What if SHIELD just disappeared me?"

"Then at least your family is safe, I guess."

"How can you be so calm about this?"

"Not to belittle your pain, Peter, but nearly everyone I know is dead. Those that aren't will be soon. I lost my world. I haven't even had a chance to see the new one. You grieve, and you adapt."

Peter gave a morose sniffle. "This wasn't supposed to be my life."

"I know, son."

"I'm supposed to be dating Gwen and going to parties and making bad decisions. Not in prison because I wanted to help people."

"There's nothing we can do about it tonight," Steve reminded him, though he knew it was cold comfort. "Try to sleep. We'll talk more in the morning."

But in the morning, over breakfast slipped through a gap in the door, Peter said "Can we forget about last night? I was just feeling sorry for myself," and Steve, who had some experience of lost young men, nodded and suggested after the meal that they practice fighting.

***

Tony Stark wasn't the ideal roommate -- he left his clothes in the way, he hogged the bathroom in the morning ("This goatee doesn't craft itself, Scruffy") and his engineering projects were constantly encroaching on Bruce's biological experiments. Aside from those flaws, though, at least Tony was interesting, verging on entertaining. Wind him up and he could talk for hours. He didn't seem to care about the Hulk, which was refreshing. And -- in his own offhanded, self-absorbed way -- he was kind.

Everything they did, every piece of data sent or received, "every shit and shower we take" as Tony put it, was monitored by SHIELD. Any email they sent was read by censors first. They did have a lot of freedom to speak, at least online: email, message boards, social media were all available to them. It just all also came with a lag, anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on how attentive their censor was being. There were cameras with audio pickups in every room. Bruce found himself reading more and speaking less, because they couldn't listen to the inside of his head.

At least, not yet. He hoped.

Tony hadn't been quite as accepting of the restriction. He'd told Bruce, in undertones masked by the roar of machines and music, that his AI had found him through back-channels within a month of imprisonment. JARVIS had apparently appropriated a portion of a SHIELD server and partitioned it off, because Tony had a primitive, low-bandwidth line out to the world. Once a week he sent an uncensored, unread-by-others letter to Pepper and received a response; Bruce understood without being told that sending a cry for help would be pointless. All Tony could do was clutch what little privacy he had. And even then, he offered Bruce half his bandwidth.

"We can split it," Tony had said over dinner, talking in code as they often did, using food as substitute for other objects and people. "I wouldn't resent that. We all need nutrition. I mean aren't you going crazy sometimes?"

"Honestly?" Bruce said. "It's just me. There's nobody to give it to. Well -- it's not safe. Keep it all. You should."

Tony had looked at him, dark eyes and curling mouth, slid around the the tiny table and hugged him. Bruce had let him, which he knew Tony counted as progress in some obscure charm offensive.

"Do you suppose there are other people like us here?" Bruce asked him once, during downtime between experiments. Tony was fiddling with scrap metal and grumbling about how SHIELD's communications embargo meant Stark Industries was only four years ahead of the nearest telecom competition instead of ten, because Tony couldn't play with cellphones.

" 'Like us' like, scientists?" Tony asked.

"People above and beyond. People who are stuck here because of what they are."

"I'm stuck here because of what I'm not," Tony said, and at Bruce's inquiring look, "Willing to sell. If I'd given the suit and specs to SHIELD, I wouldn't be here."

"So there is something more important to you than Pepper."

"It's not about the suit. It's about the power that comes with it. And yeah, an arms race that would make the Cold War look like a sandbox fight? More important than Pepper, more important than my freedom. Nobody gets the suit and as long as I'm alive, nobody ever will."

"I get it," Bruce said with a smile. "You're a political prisoner."

"Aren't you?"

"No. Half the time I'm glad I'm in here. But I'm not here protecting an ideology; I'm just more trouble than I'm worth."

"Not to me, Superfly," Tony said with a grin.

***

Fury was fond of saying that the world had become a dangerous place, but the longer Clint lived with the certainty of his new conviction, the more he doubted the sincerity -- or at least the logic -- of Fury's words.

Yes, the world was a dangerous place, and yes, these powered people with their robot suits and impermeable green skin and godlike strength were a part of that. In some cases -- certainly often, in Tony Stark's case -- the dangers they fought were enemies they themselves had made. But those psychos were going to turn up against the public sooner or later; powers were just a target for them, a reason to start swinging whatever spiked bat they'd come up with this week.

The problem was, of course, that if you break a superhero out of prison and he goes around superheroing, he's going to get caught. And then they were back to square one, only with tighter security, and Clint was out of a job. Because while he was a veteran of a few chases and more than a few daring thefts, he could see no way to free their captives without implicating himself and at least one other person. Natasha seemed game for it; he sensed she wanted a change of scene, and she was good at disappearing.

Tony Stark might be able to secure himself, might be able to keep SHIELD from a second try. Bruce Banner had experience in hiding. But a guy like Steve Rogers couldn't just vanish in a crowd -- he didn't know how to do anything necessary to survival in the modern world -- and Peter Parker had family SHIELD could take hostage. As far as Clint knew, they had no way to contact Asgard, no way to send Thor and Loki home.

"Eventually we'd need to build a zoo anyway," Natasha said to him, sitting next to him at the highest point of the Helicarrier, currently seabound just off the Massachusetts coast. It was far from listening ears and it provided at least the illusion of distance, of being high up above all his problems.

"How do you figure?" he asked.

"They're not going to stop. The hardcore powers will fight to the death, but now that people know it's possible, more and more powers will start to blip the radar. You watch. We'd have to catch them, and we're going to run out of space. It's either a prison or a zoo."

"SHIELD hasn't managed to detain anyone since Loki."

"Yeah, and that's telling, isn't it?" she asked. "Lizard's free and terrorizing New York. This weird techno-cult led by the Mandarin claims they can reprogram humanity, except all their examples breathe fire and die. Christ knows what Asgard's planning in order to get the crown prince and his brother back."

"They can have 'em."

"War Machine's only free because he belongs to the Department of Defense. The DoD isn't going to send him after targets on American soil without a lot of authorization first. But we have all kinds of new targets on American soil."

"Republicans," Clint murmured. Natasha's lips twitched.

"There are people out there with more power than they know what to do with and bad ideas to fill the gaps. We need people with power to fight them. End of story."

"No, that's the start of the story. Total escalation is the end of the story. The Cuban Missile Crisis all over again."

"Then why are you doing this, Clint?"

He shrugged. "Maybe if the heroes we got locked up in the hold aren't under the control of anyone but themselves, they'll be decent. They'll remember what it's like not to have any power."

"So the question is, how do we keep them free once we get them out?"

"I'm workin' on it. But I hope you are too, because I'm coming up with big zeros."

"When Fury brought Stark in, he used leverage. We need leverage," Natasha said.

"Like what?"

"Public exposure."

Clint snorted. "SHIELD doesn't care what the public thinks, because in ten hours the public's going to be distracted by some new iPhone app or a picture of a cute cat."

"Cynic," Natasha said. "I'm not talking about popularity. I'm talking about pure exposure. If enough people know they exist, and know they're on the side of the angels, then SHIELD is facing the same issue with every single power that they used to just have with Stark. Even SHIELD doesn't have the resources to blackmail six angry powers into submission. What we need is one big, ugly, public fight, with lots of cameras and witnesses and all six of them there to win the day."

"We need a team," Clint said. "Not six individual powers. We need one team."

"We need a team," Natasha agreed. "And they need somewhere to protect."

"Something to protect from."

"Oh, I imagine if we put the six of them in a major urban center, an enemy will present itself," Natasha said.

***

Tony had once heard a fellow programmer say that hacking was like building a castle out of greased toothpicks in a darkened room. He was not generally a patient man but he was a man who knew the value of the right tool for the right job, and hacking required patience at the best of times. It was six months, three of them spent with Bruce, before he put the last metaphorical toothpick in place.

It would have taken longer if his father hadn't been instrumental in building the Helicarrier. Once Tony got under the operating system and had a look at the base code, he could see his father's hand in the early, primitive programming. The system had been patched and upgraded a million times since then, but the base code was pure Stark -- and bless dear old Dad, who if nothing else taught Tony to always leave a back door. Inching his way in, little by little, he built his castle of code, and finally he let it go, starting the chain of events that would hopefully lead to their freedom.

"Bruce!" he yelled, and Bruce put his head out of his bedroom. "If you want to masturbate, do it now, I just bought us ten minutes of total privacy."

"What?" Bruce asked, joining him at the monitor. "What'd you do?"

"Finally finished the Iron Worm," Tony said with a grin, pointing at the monitor. Security feeds were popping up on it, overlapping, filling the screen. "Ten minutes of every day during the lunch shift change, our film footage loops and we get complete privacy."

"Total systems access?"

"Well, no," Tony said regretfully. "But I can call up anything on any other screen. Now, let's see who's sharing our server…"

He tapped in a few commands, while a countdown in the corner told them how much time was left. Nine minutes thirty, nine twenty nine…

"Wait, go back," Bruce said, and Tony flipped back a window, to a monitor that showed a large, bare room with a smaller room built inside it. Bruce pointed and Tony made a surprised noise.

"Is that kid standing on the wall?" Tony asked.

"I heard about him. Spider-man. He vanished a few months ago, just before I...arrived here."

"Who's his pal?" Tony asked.

"Can you get sound?"

"Separate system. Clunky. Eventually, maybe. Does the big guy look familiar to you?"

"He looks big."

"Yeah, brawny, but he's not in SHIELD standard-issue. Doesn't look like a guard."

"You know who he looks like?" Bruce said, studying the man's face.

"Rogers, S," Tony said. "Or Parker, P. But my money's on Steve Rogers."

"What?"

Tony pointed at the bottom of the screen. ROGERS, S - PARKER, P was displayed there.

"He looks like Captain America," Tony said. "From the old newsreels."

"That has to be some kind of -- "

"My father worked on the White Star project," Tony said absently. "Fingers in everything, Dad. He was convinced the chemicals they pumped into Captain America would allow him to survive extreme conditions. He sent teams to the arctic every summer, looking for him."

"You think someone found him?"

Spider-man executed a standing leap from the wall, caught Rogers by his shoulders, and flipped up into a handstand when Rogers braced against the impact. The two men looked at each other -- one looking up, one looking down -- and grinned.

"I think we found our fellow prisoners," Tony said.

***

Natasha and Clint were both planners by nature, though they were also improvisers, as plans only lasted so long before they failed. They were not, however, on the same level as Phil Coulson when it came to plans and contingencies.

The first op should have been simple: there was a neutralizing agent for the cyber-biotech virus they'd implanted in Pepper, and they had to get it to her. But the neutralizer wasn't actually in existence: it had been created, tested, recorded, and then destroyed. To access the formula, let alone actually make the damn thing, they had to get into the armory, through the armory, and into the secure server that stored the biohazard data.

Natasha made it as far as the door of the biohazard server room, using every ounce of stealth she had, when someone stepped in front of the door, crossed his arms, and cleared his throat.

"Agent Coulson," she said evenly.

"I don't believe you're authorized to enter this room," he said, his voice the same calm, low tone it always was. She reeled her mind back for a lie, but before she could, he'd turned and swiped his access card through the reader on the wall. The door popped open.

"One SHIELD agent per week, level seven, rotating basis, inspects the room for evidence of tampering or entry, and to be certain it's secure," he told her, stepping aside. "Fortunately, there are no biometrics down here."

She looked at him.

"Door's on a thirty second timer after the swipe," he told her. "Better get in there. You can get out without any fuss once you're done."

"Do you know why I'm here?"

"Yes," he said.

She nodded, stepping inside; the door closed after her and she fought the urge to check if it was locked.

It wasn't difficult to get the formula; getting into the server room should have been the hard part. All she had to do was find the file. She copied it out by hand, which took some time, but when she opened the door (it did open; she breathed in relief) he was still standing there.

"Walk with me," he said, leading her down a side-aisle of the armory. She stayed a half-step behind him; he didn't even seem to care she could kill him from here.

"Why are you helping us?" she asked, finally.

He took down a rifle, inspected it, shook his head and put it back.

"Pepper Potts is a friend," Coulson told her. "You should be glad I didn't smother you in your sleep for what you did to her."

"I had orders. At the time, they seemed rational."

"There's an old saying about only following orders, but I was in the Army; it'd be hypocritical of me to quote it," he said, pulling another off the rack. He seemed to like this one better; he slung it in a case and tucked it over his shoulder. "I've followed orders I shouldn't have before now. All legal, at least in the Army, but not always ethical."

"What changed?"

"Nothing. Well, not nothing," he said, turning to face her. "I didn't like doing it then, but then I didn't have the power to get around them. Now I have that power. So when I get an order I don't like, I don't follow it. Or I follow it, and fix it later."

"Is that what you're doing?" Natasha said. "Fixing bad orders?"

He nodded soberly. "I want in."

"You'd destroy your career."

"Eh. I was getting bored with this one anyway," he said with a slight smile. "I need to go store this in my quarters. Then I have some business on the mainland to deal with. Why don't you and Clint check out a Quinjet and meet me at 1700? We'll get dinner on the mainland and talk."

***

They put Loki in a cell like his brother's, when they brought him to their clever little prison, but far enough away that they could neither see nor hear each other. Loki didn't mind; as satisfying as it might be to see Thor imprisoned, watching him pace and listening to him whine would have been annoying after a while.

SHIELD soon found that they could not prevent Loki from sending duplicates of himself to walk freely when he wished, though there were some limits on his liberty. He could not speak, and his hands passed through anything he tried to touch; his doubles, wandering and looking, could cause no damage. He visited Thor once in a while, unable to speak or explain himself, but likewise able to avoid being hugged or being forced to listen to Thor rant about gaining his freedom. It wasn't like they couldn't afford to be patient. They were going to outlive everyone on this pitiful little vessel, and the vessel itself as well.

Still. Liberty would be nice.

He learned the halls and rooms of the vessel slowly, mainly concealing himself. There was a joke aboard that he haunted the ship, but he saw no reason to inform the cyclopean master of this degenerate crew that he was learning an escape route, as soon as some idiot could be prevailed upon to aid him.

"What would you do if you were freed?" a SHIELD agent asked him once.

"Return to Asgard," he lied.

"If you could do that, you would have before we caught you," she said.

"Do you wish to free me?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. He gave her a wary look. People didn't usually admit it so boldly.

"What do you require in return?" he asked.

She smiled. "For you to be a better man than you've been," she replied.

"A hard bargain."

"Think about it. When your door opens, five other people will be waiting. You can be their friend or their enemy. Either way, I win, so it's not much difference to me."

"Who are you?" he asked, enchanted.

"Natasha Romanoff. Be seeing you, Loki," she replied, and left.

***

Phil Coulson showed up in Pepper's office with a small box and a big smile. Well, as big as his smiles got.

"Please tell me you're here to help, because otherwise whatever they put in me can kill me as long as I get one good punch in on your face," she said.

"I'm here to help," he said. "And I'm sorry. I didn't know they were running that operation. I was otherwise engaged at the time."

"And now?"

He opened the box. A syringe lay inside.

"Now I have the first step towards getting you back your boyfriend," he said. She touched the syringe gingerly. "It'll neutralize the virus in your system."

"Phil."

"Once you inject it, it'll start to flush the virus out. You're going to spend a very unpleasant hour detoxing, but when it's over, you won't be a walking bomb anymore."

"What did this cost you?" she asked.

"Nothing yet. Once we get him out, I might get to replace him, but that'll be restful. Here's the thing," he said, taking it out of the case. "He's going to be bringing some friends along. We need somewhere quiet, isolated, and secure. Somewhere SHIELD doesn't know about. You need to pick someone up on your way and meet them there. Do you have anywhere like that?"

"I can think of a place," she said, offering her arm. "Shoot me up, Phil."

***

"So here's the deal," Tony said, during one of their ten minute windows of privacy. Tony referred to it as the Cone Of Silence, because he was a dork. Bruce could judge; took one to know one, after all. "I have a plan, but it has some flaws."

"Don't they all?"

"If I can get into the system itself, I can start a cascade failure. First security will go down, which gets our door open and gets my suit free. It'll come to me; that's part of the programming. Then the lights and radios go out. The wireless internet on this hunk of junk fails. Navigation's the last to go. After that, the engines fail, and because they have no way of notifying the system that they're failing, the backup power to the engines won't kick in. We have a minute to get me suited up and then a minute of free fall to kick free from the Carrier. Then the engines restart, so the whole thing doesn't crash into the ground, but by then I'm airborne, and you're with me."

"I'm gonna need some kind of helmet," Bruce said. "Potentially a sedative."

"You might just want to go green. I can follow you and pick you up when you swap back," Tony said. "There are three problems with the plan."

"Pepper," Bruce said.

"A minute isn't enough time to get to her and block her from whatever remote control has her, and by extension me, on a short leash," Tony agreed.

"The other two?"

"There's going to be security outside our door. To get into the suit, I need them flattened, but I can't flatten them without getting into the suit. And once we get out, we're fugitives. We'll need resources I'm not equipped to provide right now."

"I'm very resourceful."

"I don't doubt it. We still need an outside man. I can ask Pepper to start looking around for one, but it's going to take time."

They both startled when the overhead speakers, rarely used and very annoying, crackled to life.

"I think I can help you out," a voice said.

"Shit, we're made," Tony said, closing down the monitors.

"You're not made, Stark," the voice said. "We've been watching. We're on your side."

"Who is we?"

"Tell you later, you haven't got much private time left. The virus in Ms. Potts is already neutralized. She says hi."

Tony gaped at the ceiling.

"Figure out what you need from us. You'll be hearing from me," the voice added.

"Hey, voice from the sky! What do I call you?" Tony demanded.

There was a staticky chuckle. "Call me Clint. Catch you tomorrow, gentlemen."

***

Tony got two emails to his private account that night -- one from Pepper, informing him of Phil Coulson's visit (Tony didn't think the guy even had a first name; surprise surprise) and the resultant misery as the virus purged itself out. He felt for her; Pepper never took illness well.

The second email was from the mysterious voice in the ceiling. Clint, whoever he was, wanted to know what Tony needed, and also if he could pick up some buddies on his way out the door. Tony responded to that one first, suggesting an alternate route out for these newfound friends and thanking Mystery Clint for his time and efforts. Maybe it was a setup, but he didn't care; he was ready to go and he didn't think that this was the kind of head game Fury would play.

He sent off a list of what he needed and when -- hard, secure access to the system, someone to take out the guards outside their door, and preferably a flight suit of some kind for Bruce. Then he sent a second, much shorter message to Pepper.

Honey, I'm coming home. Don't be mad I'm late. See you at the place. Bring some stuff.

***

From SHIELD's point of view, what happened when Tony Stark hit the simulated big red button on his computer monitor looked like a kind of apocalypse in miniature. From Tony's point of view, it was a well-played symphony with himself as conductor.

As soon as their ten-minute Cone of Silence descended for the day, two windows appeared on two separate monitors. On his, Natasha Romanoff's face was visible, and he thought for a second that she'd arranged this, that she was going to lock him in an even tinier cell with no tech and kill Pepper. He filled with rage. It ebbed as soon as she said, "Don't ask, I'm sorry, Clint sent me."

"I'm still not inviting you to my birthday party," he replied. "Not again, anyway. Can you get us into the system itself?"

"Working," she said.

"Time to see if Agent Romanoff is as good as she thinks she is," Tony said, still annoyed that he was being rescued by a woman he desperately wanted to kick in the head.

"The system is yours, Stark," she said.

"I've got access," Bruce announced, sounding surprised and delighted. "Time to see if this crazy plan of yours works."

"I'm impressed and slightly terrified," Tony informed them. "All right, it's showtime."

"Mr. Stark, this is Operative D," a new voice said, no visual. It was female, brisk, and commanding. "Agent Romanoff is en route to your location to bang heads as requested."

"Uh, thank you, Operative D, the suit should be free in about thirty seconds."

"Patching you through to Cell 31-A. Please notify the Captain and blow his doors; 31-A is across from you, so you should probably meet him as fast as possible."

"With pleasure. Also triggering doors T-40 and L-40 to open on mark."

"Thank you, Mr. Stark. I'll be with you until you disembark."

"Pleasure flying with you, Operative D," Tony said, as Bruce tossed the radio uplink from his monitor to Tony's.

"Hey, Capsicle, over here," Tony said, and saw both the Captain and his spidery friend startle in surprise. They looked at the radio, and Tony grinned. "Yes, my voice is coming from the radio. No, I don't have time to explain. The door in front of you should open in 3...2...1..."

Tony and Bruce's door blew at the same time the one across the hall did. He also had the distinct pleasure of seeing Natasha Romanoff garotte a guard into unconsciousness. Two were already on the ground and one was spasming from a taser bolt. Tony stepped up to the door. Steve Rogers was standing just inside it, large as life and twice as pretty.

"Well, soldier?" Tony said, stepping through and allowing Bruce to crowd out after him. Romanoff tossed Bruce a flight jacket and a motorcycle helmet. "Ready to blow this pop stand?"

"What's going on?" Rogers asked. A head appeared in the doorway, upside-down, and Parker dropped to the floor in front of Rogers, defensively.

"What's going on is -- oh, excuse me," Tony said, as his armor came barrelling down the hallway. Darkness followed it, literally; the lights were failing. Tony stepped into the armor, sighed happily, and lit up the hall with the glow of his repulsors.

"Prison break," Bruce said.

"We gotta go," Romanoff announced, activating a handful of glow-sticks and passing them out. "Clint's taking care of business on the bridge. You two, down that hallway, there's a bulkhead you can blast through. Captain, Mr. Parker, if you'd like to follow me…"

"With pleasure, ma'am," Captain America said, and that was the last Tony heard before he blew a massive hole in the Helicarrier, grabbed Bruce, and dropped into free fall.

***

"Clint, what's your ETA?" Natasha asked, as they took off running down the dark hallway. When they emerged into a lobby lit by windows, Captain Rogers stepped up out in front of her and started body-checking SHIELD agents out of the way. Parker was bouncing all over the place, knocking down anyone Cap missed. Their chivalry was unnecessary, but sort of charming.

"Just fired," Clint said in her ear. "Sorry, Hill, the bridge is going to get ugly for a while."

"It's all right, Clint. Just get the packages safely away."

"You want to come with us, last chance."

"You need someone inside. Tell Natasha she owes me like, five beers."

Natasha laughed and switched channels. "Coulson?"

"You have ten seconds to hit Asgard country," he replied.

"Where are you?"

"Handling some equipment issues. I'll meet you at the bay."

"Which way?" Rogers called.

"Got it," Natasha said hurriedly. "Left, Captain, we have some cargo to collect."

The doors of Thor and Loki's cells popped open just as they arrived.

"Oh, oh let me say it, let me say it," Peter said, bounding ahead of Rogers. He held out his hands to the gods. "Come with us if you want to live."

Natasha gave Loki a narrow look.

"Friend, not foe," he said to her.

"Better stay that way," Natasha said. "We're expecting an air battle. We need everyone on side. Come on."

"Battle, excellent," Thor replied, running along next to them as they headed for the bay. He had his hand out like he was expecting something. Rogers, who was apparently enjoying playing linebacker, almost bowled Clint over as he joined them in their headlong flight.

"One of you, one of you!" Clint yelled, ducking around him. Parker yelped as a hammer came winging its way out of nowhere and smacked into Thor's hand, narrowly missing his head.

"Where are we going?" Rogers asked.

"Jet bay. There's a ride waiting for us there," Clint said. "Natasha, what's our twenty on Coulson? I heard Stark blow out."

"I'm not going to make the jet," Coulson said in her ear. She saw Clint flinch.

"Shit," he answered. "We can hold them for -- "

"No, go on ahead."

"He'll kill you," Natasha said.

"Probably not," Coulson replied. "If he does, Hill will avenge me."

"Oh, probably not?" Natasha asked, as Peter bounded off three SHIELD agents, snatched a gun out of the hands of a fourth, and let Steve and Thor barrel their way through two more on their way to the jet.

"Everyone in," Clint ordered. "We're going to have to lose some pursuers."

"You go," Thor said. "I'll take rear point."

"Um," Parker began, but Clint shoved him into the jet.

"Well, that was fun!" Rogers said, as he settled in and Clint dove for the pilot's seat. "I really hope you're the good guys because if I'm being kidnapped I'm still going with you anyway."

"Good guys, promise," Natasha said. "Mostly."

"Mostly works for me," Rogers said.

The jet door was closing when there was a scuffle in the bay beyond; Natasha peered out, saw Coulson, and leaned back just before something came whirling through the gap, embedding itself in the floor.

"The fuck was that?" Clint asked, already lifting them off. Behind them, Thor was hovering, waiting.

"Is that...?" Parker asked reverently.

"What IS IT?" Clint demanded.

Rogers reached down and, with a jerk, pulled it out of the floor.

"It's my shield," he said, wonder in his eyes.

Chapter Three

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