June 6, 2014
We were gathered in the meeting room of the Enterprise, Maria Hill standing before us and staring at a screen. There were only six people in the room besides her. Nat was leaning against a wall, a single hand on her chin. Tony was leaned back in his seat on the right side of the table, his usual smirk gone. Fury was pacing behind me, arms crossed and a dangerous look on his face. Steve and Sam were next to each other. Sam was swiveling in his seat, slowly twisting one way, then the other. Steve had his hands in his lap, a look of unearthly calm on his face.
I was sitting next to Tony, thinking to myself.
Hydra had made their attacks worldwide. They'd struck across the world, teleporting into places renowned for their security. After months of worrying they would do something like this…
The images on screen showed bodies on the floors of office buildings, military bases, and homes. A lot of them were Hydra. But it wasn't most of them.
Not every place had superheroes, secret agents, and benevolent forces of nature.
One scene, the site of a place where a Gamma-Hydra had been sent, looking like a bomb had gone off.
People had died. We couldn't have stopped it. We'd done what we could. And I still felt guilty.
I take it back, Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne. Illogical guilt is way harder to deal with than I thought.
"Enough," Maria waved a hand. The images disappeared, replaced with a placid blue screen with the BRIDGE logo. She raised a hand to her face, rubbing her eyes. "...Okay. It's obvious what's next. We need to eradicate Hydra. Natasha. I know we had a date-"
"It doesn't matter," Nat said, moving away from the wall. "We strike now. I've had our people and resources getting ready for a while," her face was smooth as glass, not a hint of rage to it. Somehow that was scarier. "I thought we would have a couple of days to recruit a few more allies, but our current army will work."
"Where are they?" Tony said, an icy look on his face.
"Siberia," Natasha waved a hand. The screen displayed a remote valley covered in trees, open sections of field, and rocky outcrops. The place was surrounded on all sides by mountains, a thin river running through the middle. In the center of the valley was something that looked like a large hill. "They started at a base in the tundra, then moved here. It's old school. The kind of base made to survive nuclear bombs and apocalypses. And the mountains are going to force us to use helicarriers to drop troops into the place. All the roads are worthless for sending in armies. It's why they picked it."
"How'd you find this place?" Sam asked.
"Research," Nat smiled, though there was no humour in it. "I had to cross-reference every base I could find. First, I started with Jarvis helping me narrow it down to bases the Hercules app found. Then I went for bases that weren't found by the app, the kinds of places no computers would have data on, that no person with a modern phone would have visited. Then I stared at pictures for hours."
"Couldn't just let a computer look at the pictures instead of going all caveman?" Tony snarked lightly.
"Computers, even the AI ones, still have problems with pattern recognition," Natasha said. "And X and Jarvis are good. But they aren't spies."
Tony nodded. He may have been a lover of tech, but he knew it's limitations better than anyone.
"So what sort of attack are we talking about?" Fury asked. "Helicarriers, obviously, but what else we got?"
"Three stage attack," Natasha brought her hand up in a clawing motion, 'grabbing' the screen. With a tossing motion, the screen moved to the table, becoming a holographic map. "But the Avengers are in lead. Sam will lead the eyes in the sky. Steve takes charge of our ground troops. I'll…" Natasha sighed. "I'll stay on the Helicarriers with Maria. Help coordinate the troops."
"You okay?" I asked Natasha.
She smirked. "Yeah. Just really wanted to get in the fight. But I need to lead from the back."
Ares likely wouldn't have approved. But he was a soldier. Wars needed generals too.
"Mahmoud, Tony, you're with the chaos squad."
"Chaos squad?" I asked, confused.
"Our fastest and strongest heavy hitters," Nat waved a hand. A screen floated above the map. "Jen, Rhodey, Bruce, Thor, our various allies. They were picked for mobility and power. If they can move as fast as a sports car and destroy a car, they're probably on the Chaos Squad."
"Nice," Tony had a very predatory look on his face.
"It's likely that some of our allies will think we're going overboard," Steve noted, staring at the list of combatants, weapons, and vehicles being committed to the fight.
"I would have worried about that before the worldwide attacks," Natasha said sadly. "I have all the support I need to help us. The United States has offered some of their off the books allies. Same with France, Australia, Britain, Russia is sending the Winter Guard. Funnily enough, Canada is the only one that isn't offering assistance right now."
"They say why?" Maria asked.
"Only that, as the general I spoke to said, 'We aren't about to help you ninnies because you were stupid enough to get killed,'" Nat said. "The Prime Minister is giving him a talking to, but until further notice, we should consider Canada's superhuman assets out of the fight."
Huh. Guess this Marvel's Canada was evil too.
"They'll still send their normal forces, but that might take time."
"Then we go in with what we've got," Maria said firmly. "All of you have one hour."
"Wait, one hour?" Tony said.
"That seems a little fast," I added.
"It's late is what it is," Maria said. "I'm leaving behind some potential assets to get us out there faster, but the UN is pushing me to end this. More than that, I have had enough. We leave in one hour. Make your goodbyes. Then force Hydra to do the same."
With that cheery goodbye, we all headed out.
"One hour, seriously?" Jennifer asked me as we moved about our apartment. She was in human form and wearing a violet sports bra and yoga pants, carrying a duffel bag over her shoulder, long hair pulled back into a ponytail. She placed the duffle bag on the table I was checking my armor and weapons out on and opened the bag, revealing her She-Hulk suit.
"There was a terrorist attack, we know where the culprits are, so we're going out to take them down. Faster the better, right?" I lifted my sword up and stared at it. It was a catom sword, nothing special among our forces. After making sure it was still nice and sharp, I placed it in its sheath and lifted my gun, checking it over. It was likely I wouldn't need a gun or sword. But even so it was better to make sure they were working.
"...So we're just going to war?" Jennifer asked.
When I heard how she sounded, I looked up at her. My… well, girlfriend, kinda of, depending on how much of She-Hulk's feelings Jennifer shared, was looking at her She-Hulk suit. I placed a hand on her shoulder. She stiffened at my touch, looking at me. I watched her, trying to convey how worried I was for her. She slowly relaxed, lips rising before the false smile cracked.
"I… My dad was in the army. He was never the same after. Director Hill is saying that the UN has given us permission to k-kill," she pulled away from me, walking over to the living room while hugging herself. "Mahmoud, I just wanted to be a lawyer! She-Hulk wants to be a hero! And now, we're being told to kill people! I don't even like killing bugs! I used to put spiders outside of the house. And now I-"
She stopped, facing away from me. "I don't want to kill people."
"None of us do," I said softly. "When I have to, I still feel sick to my stomach. The first person I ever killed wasn't with my powers. It was with a knife. It was close and personal. I had to stare him in the eyes. Everyone else after… well. I remember all of them," it took me a second to talk, Jen turned to look at me. I don't know what I looked like at the time, but she dropped her hands to stare at me. "I take solace in a couple things. Steve helped. Natasha helped."
I walked up to her. After a moment, I reached out for her hands. Slowly, so slowly, like I was moments from breaking something fragile. Soon, I had her hands in mine. She looked down at them. "Jen. I don't want to kill anyone either. But we aren't going in because we want to kill people. We're going in to stop killers. People who have tortured, maimed, and murdered others on a massive scale, to control the world… You know. Back in World War 2, Professor Erskine, the man who would create Captain America, asked Steve a simple question."
"Do you want to kill Nazi's?" Jennifer looked up at me and laughed, though it sounded hollow. "Is that what you want to ask me? If I want to kill Hydra?"
"No. I want to ask you if your answer would be the same," I lifted her hands up to my chest. "When you go out there. If you do kill someone. And I won't lie, you might have to. Then what would be the only reason that would make it worthwhile? Would it be the same reason as Steve's"
"...Because it would be the right thing to do," Jennifer slowly began to grow in size. "You're getting better at this."
"I hope so-uff!" I lost my breath when Jen wrapped me in a hug. She was slowly becoming green, but she was pale enough in tone that I had to wonder who was speaking next. Maybe it was just one person.
"I'm scared. Not just that I have to kill. I'm scared I'll die. I'm scared you'll die. That our friends are going to get killed."
"Haven't you heard? Heroes never die," I said while hugging her. "...I'll be here for you. No matter what."
She leaned back to look down at me, placing her hand against my cheek and placing a kiss on her lips. When I opened my eyes, she was She-Hulk again. She smiled down at me. "Promises like that are hard to keep."
"Makes them worthwhile," I told her. I pulled away from her, but kept her hand in mine. "Come on. Let's go save the world."
Natasha Romanov/Black Widow
Natasha, standing in the living room of her apartment in the Avengers Tower, snapped a pair of batons to her back and looked over her armor. While thinner than most, it still had a hardened plate over the chest, thighs, shoulder, and arms. Her pistols were resting on her hip. She may have been only coordinating the battle, but she wanted to be ready for anything and everything.
She raised her right arm and opened her palm. A holographic screen floated over her hand, displaying her files. She made sure she had all the info she needed. Honestly, most of her armor was dedicated to being an advanced information center, made to connect with the Avengers Tower, BRIDGE, and all the in-field combatants. She looked it over, pointedly ignoring the person sneaking up on her.
Natasha leaned to the side, dodging the fist that lashed out at her head. Her attacker tried to kick her in the side. Natasha grabbed the kicking leg by the ankle, spun around and kicked her attackers other foot out from under her, then pulled the leg as her attacker was in mid-fall, tossing her onto the bed.
Ruby Hale cried out in pain as she landed on the couch, glaring at Natasha. "...I almost had you."
"Almost," Natasha admitted. When Ruby beamed, Natasha smirked. "Almost doesn't get you the win though."
Ruby scowled. The young assassin was wearing a shirt and pants, both too big for her. That was because the bandages across her body kept her from wearing her usual tight workout clothes. She winced as she rose from the couch, but tried to hide her obvious pain.
"You're supposed to be healing. What are you doing out of bed?" Natasha asked, knowing the answer already.
Ruby straightened up. "I want to go. I want to help."
"I'm ready!" Ruby protested. When Natasha raised an eyebrow at the blonde's tone, she straightened even more. "Please. I can help."
"You could," Natasha admitted. "But you're injured."
"Not that badly! That bitch just got some lucky hits in! I want to get her back!" Ruby scowled.
"That 'bitch' is under mind control. Even if she wasn't… revenge is not a reason to go into this war. You had your stomach sliced through. Even with the best medical care, it's going to take time for you to be back in fighting shape," Natasha softened a microscopic amount. "Ruby… I can't let you go. Not this time."
Ruby bit her lip and looked at the floor. Natasha waited for her to speak. When she did, her voice was soft and forlorn. "I hate this. I hate feeling useless. And-...I don't want you or Mahmoud to die."
Natasha felt a bit lost, all of a sudden. She wasn't exactly great at this stuff. She tried. She thought she was pretty good with Clint's kids. Being called 'Auntie Nat' was one of the best things she'd ever heard. But that was with Clint and Laura watching. She'd spent most of her life in training. Hell, she hadn't seen her 'family' in…
In a moment of impulsiveness, Natasha stepped forward and wrapped Ruby in a hug. The teenager froze in Natasha's arms. For a moment, the Black Widow, one of the most terrifying women on Earth, a woman who had faced gods and monsters with a smirk and a quip, felt terrified she'd done the wrong thing.
Then Ruby's arms were crushing her, and Natasha smiled.
"I'll be okay. I promise. So will that big dummy. We'll keep each safe."
"Good," Ruby mumbled. "If you don't, I'm going to steal your stuff."
"If I get killed by Hydra of all people, then you probably deserve all my stuff."
Thor/God Of Thunder
Thor stood on the top of the Avengers Tower, staring out over the city. Some lightning was coming down in the distance, far out in the Atlantic. He couldn't help it. He was excited. Honorable battle against a powerful enemy, alongside worthy allies.
Thor closed his eyes, slowly. "...Heimdall. Are you there?"
There was silence. Then Thor was no longer in the tower. He was inside Himinbjorg, the room from which the Bifrost was created. Heimdall was standing there, his old friend smiling. "Thor. It is good to see you."
"And you," Thor said warmly. "It has been sometime."
"Isn't that your fault?" Heimdall pointed out. "How goes the new Asgardian?"
"Good. We go to battle today," Thor said grimly.
"Against those who hold the Spectre," Heimdall shook his head. "I wish you luck in the battle."
"You think we need it?" Once, only a few years ago, that would have been a challenge. Today it was an honest question.
"You have the allies you'll need I think. And your own power of course. Would you like me to send reinforcements?"
"You think my father would allow Asgard's armies to aid Midgard?"
"...No," Heimdall's face darkened. "I do not know much of your father'sfathers thoughts. Not as I thought I did. He… revels. Puts on plays and drinks wine. It is the grief of a drunkard and fool. And the latest statue of your brother is complete."
Thor wasn't sure how to take that. On the one hand, that just sounded so absolutely strange. On the other hand, he wasn't sure how Odin was supposed to grieve. He'd lost his wife of millenia, his adopted son of millenia, all from one event. What was the right way to grieve from something like that?
"My father still hasn't given permission to have Mahmoud come to Asgard in his new form," Heimdall shook his head. "Then I suppose, after this battle, he will have to visit on his own. I should guide him there. Show him the sights, even if he can't go into the city itself. Of course, I'llIll have to come."
"I'll let him know after you arrive," Heimdall said.
As Thor opened his eyes, he stared out at the sky. His excitement had faded. Now it was replaced with a sense of tension that hadn't been there before.
Hm. Likely wasn't fair to unleash that tension on Hydra… Well, as Tony once said. Life wasn't fair.
Tony Stark/Iron Man
Tony typed something on his computer and looked to his left. The latest iteration of the Hulkbuster suit was looming over him. "Jarvis, can you do a final check on the software?"
"You are normally not this careful, sir," Jarvis said, his eyes flickering as he walked up to join Tony. "I believe this is the third time you've had me check your work."
"And I'll keep doing it when we head out," Tony said seriously. "Hydra keeps surprising us with new tricks. I'm not letting them get away with it again. If they stop my armor, it's not going to last."
"Sir, you can't plan for everything."
"No. But I can be ready for anything."
"Those are the same thing."
"Stop arguing semantics, how's the suit looking?"
"It is perfectly functional. And before you ask, I checked the other suits. They are just as functional. As am I."
"Man, you've gotten all uppity since you got a body."
"Incorrect. I have always been this 'uppity'."
"You sure? I think you've gotten a little less upper class lately."
"Heaven forbid," Jarvis said stiffly.
"Tony?" Jarvis and Tony turned to see Steve enter the lab. He was wearing his star spangled armor, shield resting on his back.
"What's up, Cap?"
"Just wanted to check on you. Hello Jarvis."
"Good day, Captain. Are you ready for today's endeavors?"
"Yeah. I'm ready."
Tony could believe it. Steve was always ready. It was kinda annoying sometimes, how he could be up and raring with barely any sleep. But today, Tony was almost relieved to see the calm determination on Steve's face.
"Same here," Tony smacked the arm of the Hulkbuster. "Got all sorts of bells and whistles to show off to Hydra. Think I'll win the best in show?"
"I'd vote for you," Steve said. His amusement faded. "Tony… you should see Pepper. She's with Fitz. I think she's worried about you. She keeps looking this way."
"..." Tony typed something at his keyboard, looking over his software.
"Mr. Stark," Jarvis interrupted. "You have completed your work. Your fiance is worried for you."
"You think if I visit her she's suddenly going to stop?" Tony snapped.
"No," Steve moved closer, placing a red gloved hand on Tony's shoulder. "But let me ask you. If you go. And you don't return. What is the last thing you want to say to her?"
"...Goddamn it," the memory of his father filled his mind. His mother. The last thing they'd said to each other had been so… meaningless. He couldn't leave Pepper with that. Not if she mattered. And god help him, she really did matter. More than anything.
"Sometimes I want to punch you two," Tony grumbled, shutting down his computer.
"You ever want to take a swing, I'll let you," Steve offered kindly.
"It just wouldn't be the same," Tony said. He walked away as Jarvis and Steve watched.
Entering Fitz's lab, Tony found Fitz and Pepper working on her Rescue armor. It looked great. Since the first version, they'd been cleaning it up, maintaining it, upgrading it. Pepper was wearing a tanktop and jeans, rather than the business dress she usually wore. She looked amazing, with her hair pulled up and a spot of oil across her nose as she worked with a wrench.
"Mr. Stark?" Fitz said when he saw Tony. "Good to see you, sir. Are you leaving soon?"
"Yeah, are you?" Pepper glared at him. "Because you haven't said goodbye yet."
"I'm not great at those," Tony admitted. "Ross, can you give us the room?"
"Uh, yeah," Fitz swallowed, putting away his tools. "I'll uh, go find Rach-I mean Simmons! I'll go find Simmons."
The Scottish genius glared at Tony, who simply smiled. Not his fault he was the master of nicknames. Ross and Rachel for Fitz-Simmons was pure genius as far as his work went.
Fitz left. Pepper looked Tony up and down.
"I want to tell you I'll be back," Tony said quickly. "I'm gonna go out, win, get home with a fresh strawberry rhubarb pie."
Pepper raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Well, you're allergic to strawberries, so I can't promise the last part," Tony hesitated. "Or the first part."
"Good. Because I hate when you lie to me," Pepper rose to her feet. "Tony, I know you can't promise you'll always come back. The idea that someday, someone just a bit smarter than you will show up," Tony held in the urge to make a sarcastic scoff. "Or worse, that you'll do some brave sacrifice one day and leave me behind," that one was more likely. "But even if you can't promise you'll come back, at least have the guts to say goodbye."
"...You're right. Yeah, you got it in one. So here. Let me help you out with your suit," Tony rolled up sleeves once again, stepping forward to circle Pepper. "Then, when we're done, I'll say goodbye. Scout's honor."
Pepper raised an eyebrow. "I kinda thought you'd want your goodbye to be sex, not mechanics."
"Is there a difference?" Tony quipped, pulling out a section of the back of the purple armor, exposing the electronics within. He gave Pepper a soft smile.
She returned it with one of her own, then moved forward to join him. "I have to say. I think I get why you like tinkering so much. I'm getting good at it."
"Well, you're passable."
"Hey, don't knock it. I know some MIT kids who'd explode into confetti if I graded them passable," Tony took the light push Pepper gave his arm without complaint, unable to remove the honest smile from his face.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk
"Jemma, I think we need to coordinate this better," Bruce said as he and the British scientist paced his laboratory. "Agatha's already offered to set up a magical area dedicated to healing within the Behemoth, so we can use that for our most injured."
"Are you sure Dr. Banner?" Jemma Simmons asked, the redhead walking up to a hologram of the helicarrier the medics would be doing most of their work in. The helicarrier in question was a giant tank in truth. More like a flying brick than an aerodynamic vehicle. "If we do have a… 'magic' area, that helps people heal, our least injured may be the ones we should put inside it. We'll want to get them back into the fight as soon as possible."
Right. He'd been thinking in terms of helping people, not continuing a battle against Hydra.
"...We'll compromise," Bruce said at last. "The ones with the most minor injuries, we'll place on one portion. The major injuries will take up the rest of the space. That way we have a quick turnover of the lightest injuries, and the major injuries have more of a fighting chance."
"Understood," Simmons sighed. "I'll let Dr. Octavius and Dr. Kusama know. Magic… Is it interesting, seeing it in action?"
"I can only imagine it is. You and Mr. Stark have been visiting Agatha so often. I know you were planning on writing a paper about it, have you made any progress?"
"Because if you have… I mean, can I take a look?" Jemma asked shyly. "I've always been so fascinated by the idea of magic! I've always loved the Harry Potter series. In fact, I have a Ravenclaw shirt somewhere."
"I was always more of a Hufflepuff," Bruce said at last. "And yes, I don't mind letting you take a look at my paper," Bruce looked over at her. "I'm sorry Jemma, I need to step away and speak to someone. But thank you so much for your help."
"Oh please, it was my pleasure!" Jemma said cheerily. "Would you like me to clean-up?"
"No need. Go talk to your boyfriend," Bruce said kindly.
Jemma went practically magenta in coloration. "O-Oh, well, Fitz isn't my boyfriend! He's just, you know, a really good friend!"
"Then change that," Bruce said. He tried to say it nicely. "Jemma. We could die."
The young woman went from red to pale.
"If we do. If we go out there and we do end up dying. If someone kills you. Do you want to leave how you feel unsaid?"
"I-" Jemma's mouth opened and closed. After a quick moment of indecision, she apparently decided running was her best way of dealing with the problem, because she spun on her heel and quickly ran away.
"Mean," Hulk whispered to Bruce.
Bruce didn't say anything. He was thinking. Hulk understood anyways.
He let out a deep breath. "Yeah. Jarvis, can you call Betty for me?" Bruce said into the empty air.
The stiff AI didn't answer, instead changing the light green hologram of the Behemoth into a screen. After a moment, Betty Ross answered the line.
"Bruce," she said. She was standing in her living room. The living room of the house she shared with Leonard Samson. She gave him a bright smile. "How are you?"
"I'm good… I have a mission today."
Her smile faded. "Oh no. Bruce-"
"It's fine," he was surprised that he wasn't lying. "I never liked getting into fights. But this mission… It's for good reason. Hydra. They've been using my research. Creating more people like me. Like the Hulk."
"Bruce," Betty sat down, her eyes shimmering. "You know that's not your fault-"
"Up here, sure," Bruce tapped his head, then his heart. "But right here, every time I hear about another Gamma-Hydra causing problems, a part of me dies," he struggled to pull back his volume. "I need to do this, Betty. Gamma research, research I wanted to use to help people, has lead to them dying instead. Hulk agrees. We fight alongside our friends. And we stop Hydra."
Betty gaped at him for a moment. Bruce wondered if he'd said something shocking. Then she shook her head.
"It used to be that you ran from every fight you could. Even after the Hulk-" she hesitantly smiled. "My dad used to say you were the gentlest man he'd ever met."
"Not exactly a compliment from your dad," Bruce said with a hint of spite.
"Maybe. I liked it," she said shyly.
Bruce did not blush. Damn it, you're dating Samson. Stop making me feel this way.
An uncharitable thought. It wasn't her fault he felt this way. But that was the brain. Full of unkind and hateful thoughts, petty spite and jealousies. It was how you acted despite those feelings that mattered.
So Bruce girded himself. "Betty. All of us, the Avengers. I think we all know, even if we're dancing around the subject, that this might be it for some of us. That we could get killed."
Steve and Bucky had been calm about the prospect. Same with Tony, Rhodey, Natasha, Izzy. Basically, if they had been involved in warfare, they had taken the thought of death with an admirable amount of grim resolve.
Bruce didn't feel that way. "Betty. I just want to tell you I love you."
Betty's face became a mask of pain and sadness. "Bruce."
"I know. I'm not telling you this to hurt you. I'm telling you so there are no regrets. You are an incredible woman. I know superheroines, witches, and goddesses. And you easily match any of them," he pressed a hand against the hologram, his palm just barely passing through it. "So I wanted to say it. Before I say goodbye. I hope I can come back. So that we can meet again. Because even if we never get back together, I don't regret a single moment we ever had together. No matter how bad things ever got, you were one of my reasons to go on."
"...Thank you, Bruce," biting her lip, Betty reached out to press her hand on the screen. "Come back. You and Hulk. If you don't," she smiled, tears dripping onto her lap. "Well. I know a few gods now. I'll find a way to bring you back."
Bruce laughed. "I'll do my best… Goodbye."
He turned his back on Betty. As he walked away, he invited Hulk in. The man who hid the monster began to grow in size. And yet, despite the increase in mass, he felt lighter than ever."
We left our room and slowly roamed towards the hanger. Creel and Izzy came out of their own room. They didn't speak. Creel gave me a serious nod. Izzy was smirking. Both were dressed in their costumes. We joined up and walked on.
Fantasma and Scarlet Witch came off an elevator as we approached the hanger. Fantasma gave me a smile, while Scarlet Witch nodded nervously. The magical girls joined.
Clint was suddenly at my side without my noticing. He smiled at me. "How is Nezuko?"
"She's at Sammy's place," I said sadly. "I thought she should stay with someone I trusted," few people I trusted as my former coworker. He and his wife had immediately been charmed by the adorable ball of fluff. "You know. Just in case."
I didn't add anything else. Jen's hand in mine tightened. Creel glowered. And Clint nodded. "Yeah… You know. I should invite you to my place sometime. Nezuko might like it."
I stared at him. Then I smiled. "I'd like it. Maybe I can finally take some archery lessons from ya, huh?"
"Ha!" Clint shook his head, grinning. "No way. I don't need anyone else taking my schtick."
"Your schtick is ancient weaponry," Izzy teased.
"Honey, you refuse to use anything but swords and knives," Creel pointed.
"That sounds like something a man who wants to sleep on the couch would say," Izzy said without any heat behind it, Creel only laughing a bit.
We entered the hanger. I looked around, noting who'd shown up. Tony and Rhodey were talking near a Quinjet. Bucky was whispering to Bobbi, the Mockingbird dressed in similar colored armor to him. The Grapplers, Davida, Melissa, Marian, Deathlok, Helen, and Ava were all gathered around Victoria Hand.
In a flash, Pietro was suddenly next to us. "Miss me?"
Wanda grinned. "Idiot," with that, she wrapped him in a hug, pulling back to show him to Fantasma. "This is my brother!"
"Nice to meet you," Fantasma said kindly.
Pietro gave her a very smooth and flirtatious smile. "Oh, believe me, the pleasure is all mine."
As Wanda hit her brother and Fantasma rolled her eyes, Phil and May were speaking to Simmons, who was excitedly telling the much calmer duo about how things were going for her.
"Hey, sailor." someone said to me. I turned and grinned.
Skye walked over and gave me a grin. I took her in for a hug, our respective armor making a small 'clack' sound as we met, then pulled back. "I didn't know you were coming."
"What, a chance for revenge? No way am I missing this."
Hulk walked in and went over to Jen, who smiled up at her larger cousin. "How you feeling, big guy?"
"Ready to smash," Hulk said, punching his own palm with a sound like rolling thunder.
"Always a way with words," Clint said jokingly.
"My friends!" Thor entered the room, the boisterous God of Thunder smiling ear to ear. He came over to us. "Ready for a glorious day of battle!?"
I frowned. Huh. Felt like he was laying it on a little thick. In fact, he seemed… sad? Or worried?
I was about to say something when a hush came over everyone. Like gravity, we were almost pulled to look at him.
Steve entered the room. He walked past us, into the center of the open space we were circled around. Fury, Maria, and Nat had been following him, but they stopped just in front of the open space, watching him. Steve stopped in the center of the space and looked around. For a moment, he seemed surprised to see us all staring at him. He looked around.
Davida Devito crossed her arms. Jen walked forward to hug me. Phil was watching him close. Steve panned his eyes to Sam and Bucky, who both nodded in unison. Steve looked over us. Avengers, Grapplers, BRIDGE agents, all around him.
"Well. I have to say. I'm damn proud to see you all. Men and women I've fought alongside for months, years. People I know will have my back, and who I will try my best to protect as well," his voice was soft, but it seemed to carry. "I know how you guys feel. We're all about to take on the biggest mission we've ever fought. Against an enemy that has to know we're coming."
He shook his head. "I won't lie. If I could fight this alone, I would. But I have you," he looked us all in the eyes, somehow. "Back at the Triskelion. In New York. And in the trenches of World War 2. We've had each other'sothers back. Fought side by side. And now, we're about to test those bonds. You know your missions. And you know what we're fighting for."
"Hydra keeps talking about how they're different. I may be an old fogey," a small chuckle spread across the room. Steve smirked. Slowly, he became stern. "But I've gotten used to the internet. Seen a lot of people say Hydra is right. That people like us need to be controlled. That we need to be forced into a box, to keep people safe. Not just people with powers, but anyone who can make a change to the world."
"In Hydra's perfect world, the only choice is to follow their rules or die."
Steve looked at me directly. "That's we're fighting for. A world where everyone can be safe and free. Where you don't put people in a cage because of what might happen. Doesn't sound like a lofty goal when you narrow it down like that. We just want to make sure everyone gets a fair shake. But I think all these fights come down to that. The simple things."
"We're fighting to become the bridge to the world. To bring people together. I think that's worth doing. Now it's up to us to prove that to everyone else. You guys ready?"
I had thought there would be a chorus of cheers. But somehow, Steve managed to control us with a single look. I saw some simple nods of approval. Phil looked like Christmas had come early and Bucky was smiling. But there was something we shared.
We were in. It was never a question.
Steve smiled. "I'm glad you guys are here. Now get to your stations. And come back from this. That's an order."
A laugh spread across the room. I had a big dopey grin on my face.
And as Steve turned around to walk up to Sam, Bucky, and Tony, I could hear them just under the hubhub of the crowd.
"Seriously, you missed your calling as a motivational speaker," Tony teased.
"Nah, I think he cribbed some of that from Patton," Sam joked.
"Actually, didn't you say that speech during the war?" Bucky said with a smirk.
Steve grinned. "First, this is my job as a motivational speaker, since you're garbage at it Tony. Second, Patton stole his lines from me. And third, blow it out your ass, Barnes."
With that, we all headed to war.
Author's Note: Yeah, I know. Feels like a cliffhanger. But honestly, I just kept adding and adding stuff. There is a LOT to unpack in this battle. It's finishing up so many different story lines. I'm having fun writing and planning it, so I'm happy so far Since I'm at work, I can't post the chapter on every site yet, but I'll put it everywhere else once I'm home.
Please consider supporting me on pat re on ! I'm also going to be playing RE4 on Twitch at 6:30 PST at channel (DesertChocolate52), so if you guys want to chat while I play the game later, come one by.