Title: Detonation Imminent
Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Wordcount: This part, 2219
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Tony/Pepper; Clint/Natasha
Summary: Peter's trying to figure out how to be a leader. He decides that breaking into the Avengers' base of operations is a good place to start.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine.
The Avengers Tower made the same impression on the skyline that Stark Tower had, but Natasha could see as soon as they touched down on the rooftop helipad that she and Clint were about to notice some substantial differences in the interior. “He took down the other letters,” she remarked as soon as the sound from the helicopter’s blades had died down enough to allow speech at a normal volume. “Good as his word.”
Clint shook his head, laughing. “But he didn’t replace the ‘A’ with a new one. I guess he just had to know that part of his name was still up there.”
Tony didn’t meet them on the roof, but his voice did, piped through speakers somewhere in the antechamber that used to hold one of his wet bars. “Just keep walking. First right, elevator straight ahead. It still works down to the eighth floor. I’m on the tenth. Where the snap is Bruce?”
“Does he actually have cameras on us?” Clint asked. He pushed the tenth floor button and the sleek silver doors closed at an angle, just the kind of futuristic flair that Tony preferred in his trappings.
“Everywhere,” came Tony’s voice, cutting off Natasha’s noncommittal reply.
“Can you see my eyes rolling?”
“Can you hear me asking you where Bruce is?”
Natasha frowned. They were both well acquainted with the notorious Stark attitude, but she had a feeling that he was bothered by something beyond the situation he had described in his message that went out to the Avengers. “I’m sure he’s nearly here,” she assured him. “He’ll be coming by car.”
The elevator doors opened again. They soon found Tony in the nearest lab, his back to them as he bent over a cage against the wall. “Make my life a lot easier if that magnificent bastard would get over his fear of airborne confined spaces,” he groused. “He needs to see this.”
“The cyborg?” Natasha came closer, curious about the creature that he had mentioned only briefly in his email. Clint followed her, looking up and around to take in his surroundings.
Tony was already across the room, fiddling with the controls on one of the display tables. He still hadn’t looked at his visitors, but he pointed toward a closed door to their left. “In there, but don’t open it. The little bugger’s loose.” A three-dimensional diagram of an empty warehouse, presumably the space behind the door in question, appeared hovering over the table. Tony twirled his fingers to rotate it, zoomed in from a few different angles, then sighed and made the whole thing vanish with a sweep of his hand, before Natasha could even guess at what he was looking for.
“How did it get out?” asked Clint. He peered into the cage, as Tony had done a moment ago, but nothing seemed to catch his eye.
Tony shrugged. “Pepper didn’t put the lock on properly.”
Natasha had to raise an eyebrow at that; she had never known Pepper to overlook a detail of any importance. Tony had probably accidentally let the raccoon out himself, but it was better not to get sidetracked right now. “Well, how are we going to get it back?”
“That’s what I’m working on. There’s nothing in that area except shelving and lights, but it’s three stories deep and I can’t move anything remotely. We’ve got to leave the critter conscious this time so we can examine its brainwaves, so instead of shooting it I figure we’ll corner it: set up barricades and keep closing them in until we can toss a net over its head--”
“You have a net?” Clint interrupted.
Tony gestured at an adjacent table, stocked with a variety of tools. “You name it, I added it to a suit of armor at some point. And took it out at a later one. It’s not big, but it doesn’t have to - hey hey hey, what are you doing?”
Clint had found the net and was striding to the warehouse door with it. Natasha was at his side, leaving Tony to come running after them. “I told you not to open that,” he complained as they opened it. “Cap’s not here and this is still basically my house, so I’m in charge and you’re both insubordinate.”
It took a moment for Natasha to orient herself in the enormous space, although Tony’s statement about it being empty was quite literal. She searched between the metal racks arranged in uniform columns reaching up to the ceiling, but only found the raccoon by following Clint’s gaze. A second later, the net had left his hand in a spinning blur and the small dark shape overhead was twisting and jerking in its entanglement.
“Get ready to catch it,” cautioned Clint. Natasha considered their options and quickly scaled up a few shelves, allowing her to grab the net just as the creature’s struggles brought it over the edge. She lowered the thrashing bundle carefully so that she could drop it a short distance for the two men to catch between them, and they in turn put it on the floor and stepped back to give it some space. She jumped down to join them in silent observation.
“Wow,” came a voice from behind, and all three of them whirled around, reflexively reaching for weapons which they didn’t currently have equipped. They all relaxed in unison as well; it was Bruce, who had evidently entered while they were distracted by the raccoon.
However sloppy it might have been to drop their guard, Natasha felt justified by the circumstances. This wasn’t something you could see every day. Bruce dropped to a crouch, keeping his hands folded a safe distance from the animal’s snapping teeth. “We are never going to learn, are we?” he murmured.
Natasha felt a stab of pity, for both Bruce and his fellow victim of scientific experimentation. The latter didn’t seem to be feeling any kinship, but its fear was evident in the way it was snarling at them and gnawing uselessly at the net. Through the unbreakable mesh, Natasha could see reddened eyes and a strangely humanoid heaving ribcage.
“What gets me,” said Tony, “is the pants. If you’re going to engineer your own personal abomination, why play dress-up with it?”
“Modesty?” suggested Clint.
Bruce shook his head. “Genitalia would barely even be visible under the fur.”
The raccoon lunged at him, succeeding only in wrapping itself up more tightly. “Can we have this conversation somewhere else?” Natasha asked.
Tony reverted swiftly to his boss persona. “Someone come get the crate with me, we’ll bring it in here so we don’t have to lift this guy up with the net. Bruce, do you want to see the x-rays first, or should we set up the lab to contain him for a naked-eye study? It might be a few hours before it’s safe to sedate him again.”
Bruce stood up slowly, rubbing the back of his neck and keeping his eyes down at their captive. At length he grimaced and said, “There’s an ethical consideration here. Do we want to research because we’re hypothesizing about an associated danger, or is it because we’re curious?”
It was clear that Tony didn’t like the question. “Scientific inquiry is the enemy, now?”
“All I’m saying is, there’s a lot going on with this subject that we might not be able to find out until we cross some lines we didn’t know were there. Sure, I’ll take a look at the data you’ve got so far, but I’m already getting the feeling that learning anything solid about how it got to this point is going to mean reverse engineering.” He paused, letting them all grasp what it would mean to reverse engineer a living being. “At best, we’re denying the subject the quick and painless death it’s earned by suffering through this procedure.”
Natasha eyed the raccoon, whose energy seemed to be finally slackening. “At best? You mean there’s a ‘worst’?”
Bruce nodded reluctantly, then exhaled. “I mean there’s a chance it put the pants on itself.”
It was a horrible thought, and one that stayed with all of them over the next few hours and dampened the enjoyment of reuniting. Once the creature was once again safely secured, Tony invited them to a living area on another level, which he inexplicably called his campsite. “Everything’s spread out right now,” he explained. “This is the only place where I can work and have a drink at the same time.”
“There’s always Congress,” said Natasha.
They talked business for a while, filling each other in on what was urgent and a few things that weren’t. It felt like it had been a long time since four of them were in the same place together, and part of Natasha wished that they were here on a social call. She and Clint had come because they were together when they got Tony’s message, and they had both been available, for once, because they had set this time aside to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Making that kind of plan, she reflected now, was a foolproof way to ensure she'd be summoned for a mission.
Over a round of high-quality cocktails, Tony described everything that he could about his communications with the unknown spacecraft. He also showed them a video which had been transmitted to the tower, and the rough interpretation of it which Jarvis had supplied. “And I’m thinking it’s about time they got an answer,” he concluded. “Jarvis, give me the surveillance footage from the first time we caught the bandit.”
The computer complied, and Tony selected a neutral but clear still frame of the raccoon sleeping in its cage. “Send it through the same channel they used to get to us. No text, no recording. Just the picture.”
“What’s that going to do?” asked Clint, idly clinking the ice in his glass. It was early in the day to be drinking, but nobody seemed to be on a regular schedule anyway.
“Make them ask questions.” Tony cast a faintly suspicious glance at Bruce, as he had been doing since their first argument about the morality of conducting further experiments on the raccoon. “It’s sort of an implied threat, which I’m not going to follow through on.”
Bruce held up an exasperated hand. “I didn’t say anything.”
The light of the monitor pulsed a few times, and Jarvis said, “Sir.”
“What, what?” Tony griped, pushing his chair forward to fiddle with the controls. “It didn’t send? Are they blocking our signal?”
“Not at all, sir,” Jarvis replied. “They’re attempting to connect for a live video conference. Would you like to accept?”
For a few long seconds, there was dead silence as they all looked at each other for answers. Then Tony commanded, “Everyone else get out of the camera. They don’t need to know about all of us being here.”
Natasha was about to object, but Jarvis helpfully added, “I’ll display the incoming transmission on the secondary monitor, so that the others may watch without being seen,” and a few nods were exchanged. They gathered around the smaller monitor on a desk closer to Tony’s sleeping area, and it blinked awake as Tony gave the order to connect.
The face that appeared wasn’t Drax the Destroyer’s, but as it was obscured by a metallic red-eyed mask, there was little else that Natasha could gather from it. She looked over her shoulder at Tony, wondering if this mystery man was the same one he said he had encountered in the garage, but he was holding an appropriately impassive expression. She turned back to the screen to find that Jarvis had somehow noticed her movement and inserted a picture-in-picture of Tony’s face in the display.
“I see we have your attention,” said Tony.
The voice that came out of the mask took Natasha by surprise - she had been subconsciously expecting a coarseness suitable for an intergalactic henchman, or at least a heavy, unidentifiable accent. But instead his words were delivered in the same generic American tones of her current companions, beneath a layer of anger: “Yeah, you made your point. And you sure took your own sweet time about it, so let’s speed things up. We want our - we want the raccoon and we’re willing to pay. No games no lies no blood. How does that sound?”
Tony sounded collected and serene in comparison. “When it comes to payment I’m a difficult man to impress, but I’ll hear you out. You can send in your representatives tomorrow morning, no more than three individuals, and be prepared to be searched and disarmed.”
“Not tomorrow. Now.”
“Then make it six tonight and do not even consider trying to haggle me beyond that. We’ve got something you want and there’s no other half to that equation, so you’re playing by my rules. Got it?”
The caller tilted his head. Natasha had been trained to read subtle cues of body language, but even for her, there wasn’t much to go on here. “Fine,” he said with finality. “Meet me at your front entrance at six.” Before his image vanished, he added one word under his breath, so incongruously that afterward they could never agree if they had heard him correctly: “Buttmunch.”