This chapter contains altered information of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
If you have not seen the film, I strongly recommend not reading this chapter until you have.
(By the way, it's a fabulous movie.)
The flight was uncomfortably tense. Selvig, Ian, and Darcy were rather content to stay behind in Rose Hill to eat lasagna with a chatty ten year old and hide out in a Stark-designed bomb shelter. They felt safe despite not knowing that it actually wouldn't save them.
Stark continued his attempt to dissuade Pepper from accompanying them, through talk of danger and death and explosions. She was afraid, but she refused to leave him. It infected Thor with the beginnings of doubt that he would not be able to keep Jane safe at his side. Despite this, he felt it unfair to rob her of the chance to save what she could of her world. Teagan joined simply because she felt compelled to witness the end of the earth.
When Stark grew tired of arguing with his fiancé, he turned to J.A.R.V.I.S., who held friendly conversation to soothe their minds. Pepper went to the bar and fixed up a light lunch for the travelers. No one was hungry enough to eat.
Thor found himself rubbing his wrists once more. When had he adopted this nervous habit? He did not wear his armlets, the status symbol of his kingdom. He did not have the comfort of the silver protecting his forearms. Did not feel the soothing softness of the red fabric wound tight underneath them as a cushion. Did not smell the old metal's many years of service. He was completely and utterly underdressed for this battle.
He would not fight unless Jane was in immediate danger. His beloved hammer rested on the floor below his feet, polished and gleaming from its months without use. If anyone was going to battle, it would be Stark, alongside his comrades. But Anthony Stark, the Man of Iron, had no suit of red armor to protect him now. Destroying his legacy to please Virginia "Pepper" Potts was the ultimate symbol of love. He was as vulnerable as any other mortal.
Thor reconsidered his current battle strategy for the sake of his vow to protect.
"Okay, this may be the wrong time to bring this up," Teagan said, staring intently at the Asgardian across from her, "but I really need to know what happened to the Tesseract."
Thor shot her a look. "I've made it clear I will not discuss this with you," he responded.
"I'll tell you how Coulson is," she offered.
He let out a quiet and empty laugh. "A bribe of knowledge for knowledge. You almost remind me of Loki." Where Thor meant it as a sort of compliment, the humans took it as an insult. Teagan, however, remained unfazed.
"How's Coulson?" Stark said, looking up at them. "Dead."
Teagan gave a hollow smirk. "Funny how wonderful it sounds when you're wrong."
As the fate of Midgard hung in the balance, Loki was locked in a portal at the literal edge of the universe, hurtling toward Asgard as fast as he possibly could. Siv could not contain herself in the back of his mind. She phased through stages of laughter, of tears, of fear. She had no vessel to help mute the emotions she choked on.
'Schizophrenic,' he thought insultingly.
Siv whimpered and bit her metaphorical tongue.
Loki became his Aesir form and closed his eyes. Flying through the portal was next to useless and only provided him with the perception of increased speed. He split himself from his body, daring to wander astrally on this trip. Siv accompanied his mind's eye, guiding him safely through the universe as the Tesseract and his body shuttled off away from them. A journey that would have taken the humans a hundred thousand years took the astral forms mere seconds. This was one of the many powers of the mind of a higher form.
Blackness became blinding white as Loki and Siv tumbled into Midgard.
'Where are we?' he asked.
'We're on one of the helicarriers,' Siv whispered, as though it would have revealed their presence.
Loki looked down, past the image of his feet and through the rounded glass floor. The three ships rose slowly, awakening from a deep slumber to reign terror on the human population. 'What are we linked to?' he wondered. He was a master of magic, but every astral projection required a neural link. Neither one of them possessed a physical brain in this place. An echo of a siren and the crackles of gunfire slowly drifted into the helicarrier.
'To him,' she said simply.
Captain America pulled his way up to the control center of the helicarrier. In a single step, Loki alighted on the metal bridge across from him, staring intently. 'The man out of time,' he murmured. 'Is it not amusing that you would not be here today if I'd not rescued you out of greed? Who then would Midgard have turned to in this state of emergency?'
Rogers paused, looked up, looked through the raven haired prince. His face fell and his jaw clenched in determination.
Behind Loki stood the Winter Soldier, Midgard's Harbinger of Death.
Thor and Stark ran through the tower destroying numerous digital memory banks of unimaginable value. Jane, Pepper, and Teagan worked to save hundreds of thousands of files onto J.A.R.V.I.S's external hard drive.
"Take that!" Stark huffed, taking a baseball bat to one of his many computers. Working up a sweat was relieving, despite not actually needing to be so physical in destroying the memory banks.
Thor was grimly amused that his tiny swell of electricity could fry the whole room.
"Sir," J.A.R.V.I.S. interrupted, voice warped as he struggled to communicate through the ruined electronics. "You are receiving a phone call from the chairwoman of the World Security Council. It's originating from the Triskelion. Shall I answer it for you?"
Tony grunted to the A.I. system, ignoring him. He stepped back and admired his handiwork. The place was a mess. "Oh, no way," he breathed, noticing a shiny red briefcase gleaming between the desk and the wall.
"What is it?" Thor asked, watching as Stark pulled it out of the wreckage.
Stark only grinned, dusting it off. He darted out of the room and down to the research level of the tower. "Look what I found," Stark sang, dancing his way through three very stressed women. The Aesir prince trudged along quietly behind him, Mjølnir in hand.
"No," Pepper said immediately.
"Do it," Stark ordered, holding it out to her. His playful demeanor vanished.
Teagan snickered under her breath. "I thought you'd destroyed them all to make yourself 'vulnerable and human'?"
If J.A.R.V.I.S. were human, he would have shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "I'm sorry, sir, but the councilwoman keeps calling. I took the liberty of observing through the caller's camera. It's Ms. Romanoff."
"Hello?" Stark answered quickly, putting the call on speaker.
"Stark!" Natasha shouted. Her voice exploded through Stark Tower.
"Shit," Stark hissed, flinching from the volume. "What's going on, are we safe? Have you uploaded the information yet? What's going on with Project Insight?"
"I couldn't get it uploaded! I needed another Alpha Level member – dammit! Give me minute!" she snarled. Gunshots echoed through the call. "I needed another Alpha Level member, the code, I couldn't break it. I took out Pierce but not for long. He's gonna be pissed when he wakes up – Christ, there's no end to these guys!" She stuffed the phone down her bra while she took out a team of HYDRA operatives.
Natasha's lack of a cool and controlled demeanor made Stark very uneasy. He set down the briefcase.
"I'm headed down to see Agent Hill. She's monitoring the helicarriers. What are you doing?"
"We're saving uselessly important global documents onto J.A.R.V.I.S.' external hard drive," Pepper spoke up.
"Sounds good," Romanoff chuckled dryly. "It's important to make copies of the 'uselessly important' papers of the world. What about you, Stark?"
"Wrecking shit in my tower," he answered with a wry smile. "If you make it out alive, why don't you grab the gang and head over to join the party? Thor's got his hammer and everything."
Romanoff let out a quick and tense laugh. "Yeah, and we can go for shawarma again. Oh, hold on – let me call you in a few minutes, Hill's yelling at me on my earpiece."
The line went dead. The five were silent.
"What do we do now?" Jane asked.
Stark rubbed his face in thought. He was tired. Too many battles, too many aliens, too many traumas. He felt his age crashing down on him all at once. "She probably ran into an encryption problem. I'll bet you my life I can crack it for her."
"You know me and bets," Teagan snorted. "You sure you want to wager your life at a time like this?"
"Shut up, Teen Wolf," Stark smirked, sitting down between Pepper and Jane. He cracked his knuckles. "Let's see what I can do."
While the mortals worked, Thor went back up to the databank room. The place was more than a mess; between the men, they'd ripped it apart. He raised his hammer and brought it down on a semi-intact computer tower. Sparks of lightning illuminated the room.
"I would not recommend using any more electricity down here, lest you start a fire," J.A.R.V.I.S. suggested, seeming slightly annoyed. The Aesir smiled apologetically at the air. He felt like a fool – where should he look to offer a silent gesture to the A.I.? There was no face provided for J.A.R.V.I.S., only a voice and a sense of omnipresence. "Thank you," said the voice, crackling. It was as if he understood Thor's confusion.
For human technology, the Aesir was very impressed with J.A.R.V.I.S.' responses.
Stark had only just begun to struggle through Triskelion's encryptions when the A.I. voice interrupted him again.
"Ms. Romanoff is on the phone for you again," said J.A.R.V.I.S., and he immediately patched her through to Stark. The digital servant courteously lowered the volume on the speaker.
"Stark, you've got to get the hell out," Natasha demanded sharply. All the weariness in the world weighed on her voice.
"What happened?" Stark asked, voice faltering.
"Cap failed. The Winter Soldier killed him. Confirmed death. He still had his headset on – Maria heard the whole damn thing, right up til the Soldier smashed his head through the bottom of the helicarrier and drowned 'em both in the Potomac."
"I'm sorry, guys," Maria murmured, joining the phone call. They could hear the tears in her voice.
"You did your best," Teagan said quietly.
"Little Hill, what are you doing here?" Maria asked, sharpening up. "You're supposed to be –!"
"It doesn't matter where I'm supposed to be, what matters is how long we have," she interrupted.
It was silent.
"How long do we have?" Thor pressured gently, joining the others. He stood beside Jane protectively.
"The countdown says fifteen seconds," Natasha muttered.
"Oh, God," Pepper whispered, terrified.
Stark stood immediately, activating the briefcase. It opened to reveal an iron suit, a remodeled version of the Mark V. "Put on the goddamn suit Virginia, you're not getting a scratch," he snarled. "J.A.R.V.I.S., lockdown."
The next few seconds were a blur.
The phone call was disconnected as J.A.R.V.I.S. lowered the steel barriers over the windows.
That was fine, because in the last fifteen seconds of her life, Natasha used the time to call Barton and tell his voicemail the only thing she was never brave enough to say, and Maria used the time to call Coulson and tell him Teagan said goodbye, because even if she hadn't, Maria figured she probably would have wanted to.
Despite the others blockading themselves in Stark Tower, the air inside crackled with a strange heat. J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn't quick enough to lower the barricades. Something kept the servant from being able to lower the slabs all the way, and it filled Thor with a despairing self-blame for electrocuting boxes randomly without paying attention. They could see the sky blacken with a storm of bullets like heat-seeking missiles from underneath half-closed walls.
Thor collected Jane, wielding Mjølnir against the shells that threatened the mortals' lives. He may have endangered them, but he would save them still.
Stark held onto Pepper for dear life, trying to pull her closer to the god in case he decided to leave. Teagan stood in the middle of them all, feeling each second pound in her chest, listening to the bullets fall like rain.
A portal ripped open over their heads.
Pepper Potts flipped open the helmet and bent down to pick up her engagement ring that glinted on the floor. A bullet shattered Teagan's right shoulder. Another tore straight through Stark's chest.
Pepper looked up to see Tony stumbling forward.
Through his gaping wound, she saw the Bifrost close and disintegrate.
Stark fell face first onto the floor with a sickening thud. He was already dead, heart pulverized. Pepper crawled over to him, held him in her metal-clad arms, and cried. Wept. Screamed. The bullets continued to rain down, each hitting their target, removing threat after threat. The cacophony of vehicle brakes, of shouts of terror, of pleas for help drowned Pepper's ears. In moments, her voice was cut short. A bullet found its mark on the only skin Pepper left un-armored.
"Ms. Potts!" J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke worriedly. The A.I. received no response. He gave what sounded like a sniff, monitoring the absence of vital signs. When he spoke again, his voice was tight. The servant mourned for the loss of his masters. "If you'll allow me, sir, ma'am . . . I am going to put the building on self-destruct mode." He received no orders otherwise. He set the music to something soft, a slow dance Stark had ordered he play on the night be proposed to Pepper. J.A.R.V.I.S. hummed along as Stark Tower went down in flames.
Thor and Jane stood in Asgard's observatory in silence.
The mortal, perhaps too shocked or too upset to do anything else, stared into nothingness in mute horror. HYDRA had won. HYDRA had won. The faith Darcy, Ian, Erik – the faith they all put in the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D., the pure S.H.I.E.L.D., was misplaced. The Earth was gone and the information they'd spent an hour attempting to recover was on a brick of a flash drive back on Earth. Why had they even bothered? What was the point? Save it from HYDRA's attempt to remove history? Stupid. Tony, Pepper, everyone died for nothing. The last memory Jane would ever have of Earth was the look of emptiness on Pepper's face when her fiancé fell dead, just before the rest of the planet faced Tony's fate.
Thor could not save any of them. He was prepared to protect them all, the whole blasted planet if he had to, because that was his vow, and just like that he was ripped from the realm he loved. Thor let out another roar of anguish, dropped his hammer, squeezed his eyes shut. He gripped handfuls of his hair. How could he call himself the protector of the realms? Who stole him away? The only one alive who had the power to control the Bifrost. "Heimdall!" he snarled, stepping back. "Heimdall, how dare you remove me?" That was when he stumbled over Teagan.
She gave a horrid wheezing sound, sputtering in pain at his feet. The mortal was curled in a crumpled heap; blood splattered her face, her clothes, the floor. Her shattered sternum and two and a half ribs were visible.
At this, Jane gagged and fainted. Thor caught her, held her tightly in his arms. His anger ebbed away to panic. It was no exaggeration to say that Teagan's blood was everywhere.
"The Tesseract," Teagan choked out, looking up. It glimmered behind Thor.
"I don't have it!" Thor shouted, frustrated with the dying woman. "I cannot help you!"
"Actually, you can," said Loki. "It's right here."
The unseen Siv whispered into his ear; Loki crinkled his nose in disgust. His lips moved, though no sound came out. He stepped around the Aesir prince and kneeled before Teagan, held the Tesseract out to her. Her fingers brushed the cube gently, staining the clear blue stone with her carmine-red prints. She shuddered and was still. No breaths escaped her.
Now, if that smirk was directed to the presumably dead mortal at his feet or the look on Thor's face, even he was not sure.
"Did you mourn?" Loki asked innocently.
It was then that Heimdall entered the observatory.
The humans were carted away to the healers and the brothers were left to quarrel inside the golden dome.
Just outside the observatory, Heimdall watched the destruction of Earth with a heavy heart. This race of mortals had such potential, if not for their ever-present fear and hatred for themselves. As an overseer, he knew this day would come. The power of the All-Sight was dangerous and unforgiving. He could not grieve for their collective death. But he was still the King of Asgard until Thor accepted the title, and as the protector of the nine realms, he was allowed to.
So, he did.
The helicarriers killed millions of people across the planet each second. Fires raged, wars were initiated, civilians trembled in the temples of their gods. Midgard spun chaotically around the only sun it had ever known. Soon, it became clear to the rest of the humanity that there would never be an end. The helicarriers never needed to come down, carrying a supply of enough ammunition to kill every person on the face of the earth. The algorithm installed in the systems of the great ships calculated how long it would take for each member of the planet to decide to revolt against Project Insight. Every person ever born was given their day of death.
On May 8th, 2014, the population was six billion and a half. Rebel factions sprang up across the world, all being shot down – literally – in a matter of minutes after voicing their anger. Wars raged in practically every country with an army. Theft, murder, rape all rose to an unbelievable all-time high, and then they plummeted. Whoever acted out against the interest of the helicarriers were assassinated where they stood.
On September 30th, 2014, the population was just over four billion. Steven Rogers was made a saint by the Vatican. A statue was secretly erected in his name, though the helicarriers had long predicted that outcome. One by one, religious leaders and rebel warriors were struck off the list. Those that still lived, lived in constant fear. They called the helicarriers "The Fates", after three women in Greek Mythology. One spun the thread of life, another measured it out, and the third cut it. The living population felt that story become very much a part of their everyday life, knowing that one wrong move and they would be assassinated right then and there. No one was safe. They called it the Apocalypse. Judgment Day. The Ragnarök, even. They had no idea how right they were.
On February 9th, 2016, the population was down to three billion. A journalist by the name of Samuel Sanders made a jab at the other-worldly hero Thor on his talk show. "If he really wanted to save us, he would have come to destroy The Fates by now. It's been two years. Where is he? No one's seen him since that mess with the aliens in Greenwich. The Fates are invincible, and here to protect us. Crime rates have practically vanished. Wars are nonexistent. World hunger doesn't even exist anymore because now there's enough for everyone. . . ."
On July 16th, 2019, the population was barely a billion. Four members caused the simultaneous murders of the last rebel group, "Anonymous". They discussed the possibility of hacking into The Fates' mainframes and destroying them from the inside; moments after the words left their mouth, they were assassinated. And after them, the rest of their giant group. The Fates were not programmed to take chances.
The terror lasted for six years, eight months, and twenty two days. The few hundred thousand people that still lived saw the last Christmas dawn they would ever witness. Help was long since a forgotten idea. They were all condemned to death. They were all cowards. Every human that ever had an ounce of bravery was long dead. For six years, eight months, and twenty two days, they were in desperate need of a hero. Earth had a surprising abundance of them, yet none were ever able to take down the Fates. What they really needed was a god. The humans had no idea why Thor was suddenly so quiet, why he suddenly never showed up to save them. All they knew was that they didn't. And for that, they would never forgive him.
On that morning of December 25th, 2022, an army came down from the sky and collected The Fates. The leader was a giant, a celestial being, a man as crimson as this world of red. This planet drowned in blood. He promised them safety, away from this wretched life their own leaders had created. If they would fight in his war, they would be offered freedom from fear. And every human left knew he lied through his teeth, but their desire to live outweighed the obvious enslavement to this creature.
After collecting the last of the mortals, Thanos set fire to the whole of Midgard.
Will Continue in Time Trilogy Part III: Time is Vindictive
Wow okay so hi everyone? Thank you SO much for reading this far, I can't tell you how much it means to me. I know it's dragged on for quite a while but we're coming to a close! As I did at the end of Part I, I'm going to take a brief hiatus and rewrite some chapters. I'll do the announcement thing like I did last time, too, to let you know what's been added. I'm also headed back to school at the end of the month, so I may or may not have to slow down on how quickly I post a chapter. (We'll cross that pineapple when we come to it.) Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to all the continued support I get, and I hope we can see this through to the end!