Amaurosis • Chapter 1
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Genre: Action, drama, sci-fi
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor, Sam Wilson (Falcon), Tony’s bots (DUM-E & U). Appearances and mentions: Nick Fury, Pepper Potts.
Pairing: Pepper/Tony (past, referenced)
Summary: The Avengers are about to swap defense for offense in the Alien-Human War, but will that be enough to win the day – and most of all, the entire war? While Tony still struggles to overcome his blindness and come up with a permanent solution, he and the team realize that one courageous act may well backfire as their enemy is more than capable of rising to the challenge.
Complete. Sequel to “Typhlosis”.
Warnings: Apocalyptic scenery (general destruction and death), referenced (past) character death, language, violence.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Alan Taylor, Anthony & Joe Russo, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
About Amaurosis: A continuation to “Typhlosis”, a story I couldn’t leave alone despite how happy I was with its open ending. I hope this sequel manages to continue on the same note as its predecessor – and maybe bring something new to the table as well!
Chapters and statuses: Below you see the writing process of the story’s chapters. If there is no text after the chapter’s title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Chapter 1: Liability / Asset
Chapter 2: Brimstone / Fire
Chapter 3: Burn / Crash
Chapter 4: Watch / Hide
Chapter 5: Error / Trial
Chapter 6: Lightning / Thunder
Chapter 7: Foe / Friend
Chapter 8: Destroy / Seek
Chapter 9: Mirrors / Smoke
Chapter 10: Conquer / Divide
Chapter 1: Liability / Asset
Day 183 of the Alien-Human War
The taste of blood remained persistently on his tongue from his attempt to remove a distracting wetness pooling at the seam of his lips.
He detected the blow coming from the alien exo-suit – fallen yet still functioning – but could not move in time to avoid it; the blade-like extension of the battle armor’s forearm hit him across the back, the impact snapping his head backwards.
As Mark 52 crumbled to the ground like a marionette cut free of its strings, its dead weight too much for him to hold upright, the HUD flickered and went dark. Seconds crawled by as the last remnants of light faded, begetting once more an old fear deep within his body: that all there would be, ever again, was the darkness.
“Breathe,” Tony hissed, his own voice impossibly loud in his ears. “Fucking breathe…”
His chest filled the too-tight space as his lungs struggled to comply with the verbal command. Oxygen was such a precious commodity, without which life was largely impossible. Not just life, but calmness and functionality as well, and Tony was swiftly losing his grasp on both.
Air in his lungs meant oxygen in his bloodstream; the blood flowed through his veins, supplying his body with the means to keep functioning – including his brain, which was teetering dangerously on the edge of the precipice between the paralysis of shock and the rigid tension of an adrenaline rush.
He had to move, Tony knew that. Lying still, even if it was to get his bearings, was the same as signing his death warrant. Whether or not he was theoretically ready to go – to give up the fight – was insignificant; he had an obligation to stay alive, to keep on fighting until the war was over or he had spilled every ounce of his blood on the battlefield trying to uphold that outcome.
Tony Stark wasn’t dead yet, and for all his moments of weakness, he refused to die face down in the dirt, entombed inside the wreckage of his suit.
Focusing on that thought with single-minded determination, Tony shifted and hissed as ragged edges of twisted, torn metal pressed into his skin. Knowing his choices were limited to just one, he continued to wriggle out of the husk of Mark 52, damaged joints giving in, entire sections falling off as his fingers struggled to pry the armor open manually.
It was not the first time he was fortunate to be knowledgeable about every single piece of the suit: in the dark, the armor’s twisted figure was akin to bed sheets after a nightmare, unfamiliar in their shape, clinging to his body in ways they weren’t supposed to. Piece by piece he figured it out, though, struggling to free himself, aware of the seconds ticking by, each of them threatening him with failure; he was defenseless in his unconventional prison, an easy target for anyone who had an interest in snuffing him.
He had damaged the alien’s battle armor, but not enough to take it out, and all it needed to do was to crawl over to him and break him, bone by bone, if that was all it could do.
Tony had no intention of being pulverized to death, however.
With clenched teeth, mounting frustration, and fear hissed out in angry breaths, Tony continued to free himself from the armor, piece by piece. Occasionally, he had to abandon a spot in favor of another when the first would not yield results, but as air began to flow against his exposed skin where his clothes had torn, he knew he was getting closer to freedom.
Before he could get free, though, there was another obstacle looming before him: his bare hands, after removing his gauntlets to better feel his way around the damaged armor, were easily injured. Every new stab of pain took him by surprise as he could not see them coming, making him freeze up and hesitate. It would have easily seemed like not seeing the injury would be the preferred option, but it was not: the fear of the unknown and unseen was too instilled in his brain to be callously dismissed with pure strength of will, and it began to hinder his progress.
Pain had not deterred him before, though, and he refused to let it be his undoing. There was no indication that the others were coming for him, as they, too, had been heavily engaged in battle and protecting civilians. The suit’s helmet blocked most of the sounds originating around him – which meant he could not hear the enemy, either.
Maybe the last blow from the alien had truly been its last, and he had managed to damage the exo-suit too thoroughly for it to continue fighting…
That little ray of hope did not mean he could take a break, though, or that he shouldn’t be concerned, and he went back to extracting himself from the suit, grimacing against the pain in his hands as the fresh cuts burned. At least he could not see whether the slickness on his skin was blood or spilt oil – and whether it was sweat that ran down the back of his neck and the side of his nose, even though the coppery taste betrayed the origin of the latter…
Piece by piece he rid himself of the armor and finally sat up on the ground, fingers reaching to remove the helmet from around his skull. The pressure was released, making him feel like he had just exited a vacuum. Sounds came at him from all sides, much clearer than before, and the trickle of something warm down the back of his head became more noticeable.
Tony dropped the armor’s helmet and reached for the helmet-shaped device still draped around the top half of his head. His fingers mapped it out, but he already knew something was wrong because the implants had stopped working. Although the more likely scenario was that the light helmet was too damaged to interact with the implants connected to his brain, thusly leaving him literally in the dark.
As his fingers searched for damage that was more than superficial – and which had probably contributed to the bleeding on his head, Tony unlocked the light helmet and pulled it off with a grimace, casting it aside with the rest of his armor. There was a momentary sense of relief as air flowed along his bare scalp, but it was soon followed by a shudder as whatever was bleeding became irritated by the faint breeze.
With his fingers injured, he could not actually determine how he had been hurt and where exactly he was bleeding. He didn’t have time for that, either: he could still hear the battle, further off than he would have liked, but close enough to tell him that he could not sit there crying over a boo-boo and wait for someone to come and rescue him – especially when a mechanical screech reached his ears and he could envision the alien battle armor lifting itself to its feet behind him, joints creaking, damaged parts whining, but still operational enough to attack him.
Tony had never gotten to his feet so fast after losing his sight as when he heard the heavy weight of an armored foot land in the dirt, so close to him that he could feel the air move against his back. His heart beat madly as he stumbled to turn around, ears straining to make out the movements of the enemy, to anticipate what the alien would do. It was like a macabre re-enactment of the day when the aliens had attacked his house in Malibu, but back then he’d been able to see even though he’d been unarmed, and there had been three aliens in their exo-suits, not just one.
Without the implants or a functioning armor, one was more than enough to kill him, though.
Hell, he could trip over his own feet, break his neck and end up dead without any assistance at all.
With breaths shortened by distress and the knowledge that he needed to be quiet in order to hear even the tiniest hints of the enemy’s approach, Tony shuffled his feet, knowing that he could not afford to lose his footing at this critical time.
It was easier said than done as the ground shook beneath him in the slow tempo of the approaching alien battle armor. Tony backed away, listening intently, not knowing if he was putting himself at a disadvantage; the last time he’d been able to see the battlefield, he had been more preoccupied with the fight and surviving the next blow than checking his surroundings. He regretted it now, but simultaneously thought that he would have remembered if there were structures nearby where he could seek shelter.
The alien drew closer, clunky and slow. Tony did not doubt it could move faster. Perhaps his enemy was playing with him, taunting its blind prey. It seemed more like a human thing to do instead of the methods their alien enemy normally employed.
That knowledge didn’t make Tony feel any less like a rat being dangled by its tail, defenseless to do more than try and free itself, wriggling to fight or fly if a chance for either was presented. Sadly, he could do neither, which made him feel less like a rat and more like a worm being slowly worked into a hook.
The exo-suit moved again and Tony continued to back up, circling slightly, attempting to maintain his distance and not let the alien circle him. It did not truly matter whether he was shot or impaled from the front or behind, but as long as he could play at being a legitimate part of the fight…
Who was he kidding, though? He hadn’t been a legitimate part of anything for 141 days, tagging along and pretending he could still do his part. However, if it weren’t for the implants – which someone else had designed, constructed and surgically placed into his skull and brain – he wouldn’t even be out here, bleeding and hurt. Realizing yet again that he could play at still being an Avenger, but without stepping up his game, he would never be able to truly carry that title with honor.
To do that, he needed to survive this, but if he could not see, he could not fight – and if he could not fight, he would most certainly die.
Day 176 of the Alien-Human War
Mark 54, aka ‘Hades’, sent the latest batch of information as they prepared to land.
The alien camp was located in what used to be Crater Lake in Oregon: the deep blue water that the place had been renowned for was gone, leaving a deep pit in its place where a few platforms and peaks still marked the positions of Wizard Island, Merriam Cone and Phantom Ship. What had become of the famous log, Old Man of the Lake, was impossible to tell.
Much of the vegetation in the caldera’s rim was gone, including the Crater Lake Lodge and Rim Village. Burnt structures stood as forlorn landmarks. It seemed like no one had been up there for a while – or if they had been, they were no doubt dead beneath the thick coating of snow.
In an attempt to mask their arrival, Clint set the Quinjet down in a place he deemed safe from the upcoming battle. As the engines quieted, no one spoke for a while; Steve was looking at the images Hades had sent them, trying to determine the best approach.
“We didn’t count on this much snow,” he stated at last.
“We can’t sit here and wait for summer,” Tony replied. The implants extended his vision beyond the hull of the aircraft, analyzing their surroundings, driving his stomach briefly towards nausea because apparently snow looked just as depthless to them as it did to human eyes. Focusing on objects closer to him, Tony drew his attention back to his team and switched to thermal vision.
Like always, Steve burned a bit hotter than anyone else, Thor coming a close second. Bruce was a different shade from them all, and Tony had to focus only a bit more to find the volatile gamma radiation in his blood, pulsing with every beat of his heart.
“Our main force won’t be hindered by the snow, but the rest of us will have to reconsider how to approach the rim,” Natasha stated, adjusting her uniform. Beside her, Clint nodded, also looking at the monitors.
“Rhodey and I will give you a lift,” Tony offered. “Thor and the Hulk need to strike fast, but the two of us can take a few extra seconds to drop you off before we swoop in.” He had looked at the images earlier and knew the score. “We can’t let them get airborne. We pin them down in the caldera and we keep them there, or we lose the fight.”
They didn’t have enough firepower to win the battle if the alien ships got in the air. The Avengers were vastly outnumbered, but the odds would flip in their favor if they controlled the battlefield. That was the one condition they could not let slip through their fingers.
“You can’t slow down for us,” Steve said. It was hard to say what his expression was, the implants’ read-outs limited when it came to expressions, but Tony knew the tone well enough to anticipate what would come next.
“We need every able man on deck for this,” Tony snapped before their leader could go on. “You’ll be slowed by the snow, tired out because you’ll be forced to go on foot, and we need you out there. We have a plan,” he reminded.
Steve turned to look at him. The words he was about to say had been heard quite a few times in the past few days – always aimed at Tony: “Why do you care about the plan so much all of a sudden?”
Tony frowned, although no one could see it while he wore the light helmet. Well, Rhodey could probably tell, considering the twitch of his nose and the purse of his lips. “You should be happy I want to play by the rules for once,” he shrugged.
“Just give them the real reason,” Bruce said, voice quiet as if he were already sinking into himself in order to let the beast out.
“You know the real reason?” Clint asked.
Bruce didn’t reply, leaving it to Tony to explain.
“He’s guessing, at best,” Tony answered Clint’s question. Bruce’s heart beat a little faster, his body heat going up by a few degrees. “I helped devise this plan, thus I want everyone to stick to it,” he stated. “Also, when people deviate from the plan… they end up dead,” he finished.
“Except you,” the archer challenged.
“Except me, but that’s just because I’m so good at winging it,” Tony offered them a fake grin.
“It’s because of Yinsen,” Rhodey said, totally unexpected because Tony had thought they were done talking about this.
“When did I tell you about Yinsen?” he asked as he whirled towards his best friend. Facing him was unnecessary with the view the implants gave him, but he was only human and some things were hard to unlearn. Plus, it creeped people out when he didn’t turn towards them and still presented knowledge of what was happening behind him.
“You were drunk,” Rhodey said, and that kind of answered the question about why Tony didn’t remember the occasion. “He got killed because he didn’t stick to the plan you had.”
“He didn’t deserve to go out like that,” Tony muttered.
“We may all die today,” Thor announced, “but we will make it a battle our enemies shall not forget.”
Tony was quiet. The idea that this might be the last time they stood together like this… He knew the odds, and knew they were at war. It was amazing they had all come this far, mostly unscathed. So many had died around them, yet somehow the Avengers had made it. Perhaps their will to live was stronger than those who fell beside him, or perhaps it was luck.
Maybe their luck would end today, as they planned on changing the rules of engagement.
“The plan is as good as it’s going to get,” Clint decided after the silence started veering a bit towards the grim side. “It’s a whole lot of ground to cover, though: the caldera isn’t exactly small.”
“Neither are the Category 5 ships, so if we pin them together, they won’t have room to maneuver,” Rhodey said.
“Let’s get to it, then, before the aliens are done with their morning chores and disperse for the day,” Steve ordered. “Give them no quarter.”
Murmurs of acknowledgement met his words and everyone turned to put on the last pieces of their gear. Tony turned away from the subtle rise in tension and went to see the bots, who were hovering by the armors. “Alright, guys,” he said softly, resting his hands on each of their arms. Even with the helmet on, they still moved into his touch, meeting him half-way. Tony wasn’t sure what to say, suddenly. If the fight didn’t go in their favor... “J.A.R.V.I.S. will look after you if worse comes to worst,” he stated finally.
“Sir…” the AI argued softly through Mark 52’s speakers.
“Don’t disagree with me, J,” Tony ordered.
The bots let out the faintest of sounds, rolling a few inches towards him. They had been through so much, and Tony did not want to think of the possibility that they might be alone in the world soon. How lost they would be…
“We’ll come back,” Bruce’s voice came from behind him, and Tony started slightly, not having been paying attention to his surroundings outside the bots and the armor. “Steve won’t lead us to our graves,” the scientist added.
“He wants to finish this,” Tony argued without turning to look at Bruce. The implants were widening his field of vision again, though, and he could see Bruce, standing a foot and a half behind him. “We all want to finish this,” he added, words barely fighting their way out of his throat.
“We won’t end the war with this fight, no matter whose way it goes,” Bruce reminded him. “If we win, it will be a large step forward. If we have to make a tactical retreat…”
“You think the Hulk is capable of a tactical retreat?” Tony challenged as he turned around; conversing face-to-face felt so much more natural.
The bots moved, one of them pressing almost its entire arm against his backside while the other pushed forward and under his arm like a dog insistently looking to be petted. Tony’s fingers closed around the claw as if he were holding onto a hand in order to comfort its owner.
Bruce sighed and shuffled forward, almost closing the distance between them. Sometimes the Avengers seemed to forget he could see his surroundings with the light helmet on and the implants activated, breaching his personal space. Even when they realized he didn’t need assistance or guidance, they seemed to prefer to hover there, either to mask their error or just because it was still the norm more often than not because the implants literally hurt Tony’s brain and he could not keep them working for too long.
“Don’t worry,” Tony tried to cheer Bruce up – even though their roles had been reversed just seconds ago. “If we retreat, I’m sure the big guy will follow our lead eventually.” Of course, there was the state Tony called ‘the rage’, where the Hulk was exhausted, injured, and just kept beating at his opponents, sinking deeper and deeper into that place where normal people saw red. Whatever the Hulk saw…
“After battles like these, it sometimes feels impossible to become myself again,” Bruce mused.
“The other guy does go at it pretty hard – but he also dishes it out with extra determination, and that’s been our saving grace in many a fight,” Tony reminded him. “I know it can’t be pleasant, to climb out of that, but we need him more than we need any other member of this team – Thor included, no matter how much he likes to boast,” Tony said and reached his free hand up to clasp Bruce’s shoulder.
“Yet the aliens didn’t try to kill me,” Bruce said, rather unexpectedly, making Tony frown.
“Maybe they know you can’t be killed.”
“They should try, anyway,” Bruce pressed. “The other guy can do much damage to them, and he won’t stay down. I know he’s… valuable to the war effort, and I’m willing to play my part, you know that. But it makes me – and many others, too – wonder why they picked you as a target.”
“Maybe we all look alike to them and they mistook me for the other resident genius on the team,” Tony teased, shifting his hand to pull at the lobe of Bruce’s ear before sliding his hand along his neck, fingers encountering soft curls that didn’t look nearly as inviting through what the implants showed him. He knew their touch against his fingers by heart, though, from the many nights spent curled next to Bruce, seeking comfort in the endless darkness and the dreams that were merely a suffocating extension of his blinded world… “If we ever devise a way to talk to the aliens, we’ll ask. Until then, it doesn’t matter,” he decided with a note of finality.
Of course it did matter, and it was one of the questions that kept Tony awake at night. The attack on him had cost Pepper her life, and he could not let it be in vain. There had to be a reason for it; a real, profound, important reason that had nothing to do with chance or bad luck, or a randomly picked target.
His refusal to accept the possibility that Pepper may have been an accidental casualty of war kept him going, day after day, as he sought to understand the aliens’ motivation to try and kill him. It plagued him worse than the question of why Extremis had not been able to fully heal the injuries, leaving him blind and defenseless. After all, there was obvious physical damage to his eyes and optic nerves, so the source of his blindness wasn’t something like a psychosomatic blindness caused by a traumatic event. At least the latter would have explained why Extremis wasn’t healing him…
Bruce hummed quietly, passively disagreeing with Tony’s words. He knew, too, how it bothered Tony to not know, and the way the team had gotten closer over the last several months, they all shared in Tony’s frustration.
Rhodey walked over to them, taking his time so that Tony would notice. “All set?” he asked.
“I am,” Tony replied, knowing better than to say Bruce was ready on the other man’s behalf. Sometimes Bruce was already changing before anyone else was done gearing up. Other times he stumbled onto the battle field, still small and pink, and had to get shaken up in order to transform. Tony remembered one time when Bruce had actually gotten shot before the Hulk surfaced, and that had freaked Tony out a bit, fearing the beast was taking a day off or something. All those times had told him that Bruce would be ready when he was ready, and no sooner.
Bruce nodded, though, signaling that his initial hesitation would not stop him from being the leading force in their attack, and Tony let his thumb caress his scalp before he drew back his hand and turned towards his armor – only to realize the bots were in the way, still hovering.
“Come on, guys,” Tony began to order them to move, but was swiftly met by sounds that could be described as little else than sobs, followed by two mechanical arms pressing at his chest and arms. Tony tried to huff but didn’t quite managed it. “You’re embarrassing me,” he half-heartedly scolded the bots.
“I think they’re scared,” Rhodey mused.
“We’re all a little scared,” Tony grudgingly agreed. “But I built a pair of brave little bots who will be here waiting for me when I return, tired and battered,” he added. “Got it?”
Dummy’s answering bleep was far from encouraging, but both bots stopped making the pathetic sounds that pulled on Tony’s heartstrings in all the wrong ways. They refused to move before Tony pushed them away, but didn’t resist either, as if the fight had been drained out of them.
“Suit up,” Steve called out – a hint for Tony and Rhodey to get ready since everyone else was pretty much done donning their uniforms and gear. Long gone were the days when they had worn actual uniforms, especially Cap, but they all carried the ‘A’ insignia of the Avengers sewn into their clothing – or in Tony and Rhodey’s case, painted on their armors – whenever they could, for a sense of unity. Thor and the Hulk needed no such thing, of course, representing the team just fine without additional signs.
Tony looked at Mark 52, primed for battle and ready to take on the aliens like they had never fought before. A nod of his head was all it took for J.A.R.V.I.S. to begin opening the armor, and the implants delivered each burst of data, surge of electricity and flurry of motion to his brain, painting a picture that he had become familiar with since his new method of ‘seeing’ had been activated.
Since the first time, he had grown more accustomed to it and had more control over what he was seeing. Each time he noticed more details, discovering a layer of action and reaction he had not previously been able to perceive.
A learning process…
Once the armor was fully open, Tony moved past the bots and turned, stepping backwards into the snug suit that promptly began to close around him, surrounding him in a familiar cocoon. The implants adjusted to work in conjunction with the armor’s HUD, the transition less jarring now that Tony was familiar with it. The sensation was much like adding an extension to himself which provided a more familiar outlook at his surroundings.
Beside him, War Machine was in the final stages of closing around Rhodey’s body, and once all the pieces had locked into place, Rhodey rolled his shoulders as if feeling out any kinks that might hinder him in the upcoming battle.
“All set?” Tony asked.
“Yeah,” Rhodey replied. “Let’s go destroy some aliens.”
Tony turned his head, spotting Bruce. The man was slowly stripping off his clothes in order to change into a pair of pants that might not make it through the battle even though they were something Tony had been working on prior to the war, knowing Bruce usually suffered from a wardrobe malfunction after the Hulk had been up and about. The scientist seemed completely uninhibited to be undressing in a small space with six other people – he even glanced up at Tony as if noticing he was looking – but Tony supposed one couldn’t be picky when they lived a life like Bruce Banner’s, plus they had all seen a lot more of each other since the aliens arrived.
They had most certainly seen a lot more of Tony after he lost his ability to see…
Bruce pulled on the pants, adjusted the waistband, then shuddered a little, his first real indication of discomfort.
“Cold?” Clint guessed.
Bruce nodded and turned towards the hatch, a determined look on his face. The cold alone might prompt a transformation, and Tony knew they should speed things along before they had a Hulk inside the Quinjet – which would be an uncomfortably tight fit.
“Let’s get to it,” Tony called out and moved towards the hatch controls, punching a button to make it open. The HUD informed him of the drastic drop in external temperature, and Bruce shivered, then forced himself to step outside into the snow. He managed three steps in the drift disturbed by the Quinjet’s landing before he stumbled forward as his right foot sank to the knee, upsetting his balance.
Tony witnessed the temperature change beneath his skin and the reaction that looked much like a molecular explosion as the Hulk surfaced, huffing so hard that he sent a cloud of fine snow into the air around his head.
“Hulk,” Steve called out, walking out to the edge of the ramp, “we need your help today.”
The Hulk wasn’t exactly listening, getting a fistful of snow and giving it a dubious look. Tony could see his muscles contracting and subtle waves of heat leaving his body.
“We are about to attack an alien camp,” Steve went on. “We were hoping you would be our leading force.”
The Hulk huffed again and stood up – only to sink deeper in the snow. That made the rage monster twist and turn, kicking and punching at the snow as if he had found an enemy much closer than the nearby caldera.
“I’m not sure you’re reaching him,” Natasha mused as the other Avengers joined him on the ramp.
Tony took a breath and then carefully started up the thrusters, floating into the air and narrowly stopping his head from colliding with the Quinjet’s ceiling. He made a careful circle around the Hulk, stopping when he was facing him, snow billowing around them. “Hey, big guy!” Tony called out.
The Hulk grunted and looked up at him.
“Feel like smashing some aliens?” Tony asked. It was hard to tell whether the responding expression on the Hulk’s face was a sneer or a grin. Tony hoped for the latter. “There’s no snow where they’re hiding,” he added in case that was an incentive. “They’ve also got several of those big-ass War Ships hanging around…”
The Hulk hated War Ships: the Category 5 ones were tough and had weapons that hurt even the green goliath. Anything that was capable of inflicting pain went instantly on the Hulk’s long list of dislikes, and he would try to pulverize them with twice the determination for each hit they managed to land.
It didn’t take long for the Hulk to make up his mind: he abandoned his beef with the snow and punched his left fist into his open palm in a clear gesture of impending violence.
Over the Hulk’s shoulder, Cap gave Tony a thumbs-up, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see smaller expressions.
“That way,” Tony finally said, pointing towards the crater. “The rest of us will be right behind you.”
The Hulk huffed, as if to imply he didn’t need back-up, but there would be plenty of aliens for them all to smash.
Without further ado, the Hulk braced himself and jumped high into the air, clearly having decided he was not going to wade through the snow to get to the top.
“Thor,” Steve called out, and with a nod of acknowledgment the Asgardian raised his magical hammer and shot into the sky, following the Hulk’s progress.
Clint gave the snowy landscape an once-over. “What was the plan for us again?” he asked. “That snow might be deep enough to drown in, and we need to get uphill fast…”
Through the HUD, Tony could see the snow was deep enough to present a real problem. Their plan depended on the swiftness of the attack, and while Clint, Natasha and Steve were not a crucial part of their force, they had come this far for a reason – and that was not to cheer from the sidelines once they got there, hours after the fight had started.
Tony looked at Rhodey. “I’ll take Cap,” he volunteered. “You grab the Wonder Twins.”
“Roger that,” Rhodey replied and moved towards Clint and Natasha.
“If you drop me, I’ll scratch your paint,” Clint threatened as he fastened his bow to his hip and moved to grab onto the armor.
“We could make it on foot,” Steve said, more as a token protest than a real argument, seeing as he was already moving to secure his shield on his back. Tony hovered in front of him, relying on the boot and back thrusters to keep him steady as he gestured for Cap to hop on.
“Armored Delivery Service, lifting your expectations like no one has before,” Tony quipped – then grunted as Steve leaped across the distance between him and the open hatch of the Quinjet, nearly upsetting Tony’s precarious balance in the air.
“Less talking, more flying,” Steve ordered, feet resting on top of Tony’s boots, arms securing themselves on his shoulders and smartly keeping away from the thrusters and major flight stabilizers; the sheer amount of G-forces would keep him pinned into place, as long as his feet didn’t slip.
“You asked for it,” Tony cracked back, then rocketed them into the air, knowing that Rhodey would catch up once he got his own passengers secured.
The flight didn’t take long; Tony knew they did not have time to take the scenic route, so he pushed for speed and kept their altitude low to avoid detection, making a bee line for the rim of the caldera. The speed and wind kept Steve quiet, his face shielded from the air, body bracing against the gravitational forces as Tony made a quick loop to land – a loop which would have made most people contemplate losing their breakfast.
As soon as Tony’s boots hit the ground, Steve was moving away from him, releasing his shield and crouching low. Tony knew better than to stay and chat, trusting the man to handle himself as he engaged the thrusters, rising high to get a good look at the caldera while Rhodey landed next to Steve, dropping off Clint and Natasha.
“Ready?” Rhodey asked as he shot up to hover next to Tony.
Beneath them, the caldera spread out, ten miles of empty crater – empty save for over a dozen alien ships, ranging from War Ships to Troop Transfers, numerous battle armors, and clusters of Droids littering the caldera’s walls like frozen ants.
Frozen until the first roar of the Hulk rent the air as he leaped down, and the flash of lightning striking down from the previously serene sky.
“Ready or not, this is our cue,” Tony decided.
In unison, Iron Man and War Machine leaned forward and flew into the battle, weapons hot.
to be continued…