Fandom: MCU/Guardians of the Galaxy
Rating: General (some language, some violence, some creepy stuff)
Wordcount: This part, 2438
Characters/Pairing: Peter&Rocket; Tony/Pepper
Summary: Peter's back in the Avengers' base of operations and wants to get out...again.
Disclaimer: The matter of who actually owns these characters and this world is getting pretty complicated, but I can say with confidence that it's not me.
Peter was glad to see that everyone’s pace picked up after Tony explained what Rocket had really done in the control room. The way he looked first to Pepper, with real concern for her safety written on his face, made it clear that their relationship was more than casual. Peter’s respect for him increased slightly, and he was gratified when Natasha volunteered immediately to get Pepper far away from Stark Tower as quickly as possible, and when Pepper acquiesced without an argument.
Clint spoke next: “I’ll find Cap.”
“I will return to the spacecraft’s landing site,” said Thor.
“I’ll stay,” said Bruce. Several voices began to object at once, but he cleared his throat to silence them and asked Tony, “You’re staying, aren’t you? I can help. And let’s not dodge the truth, here - if the place goes down with us inside, I’m the only one who’s going to survive it.”
Peter didn’t know why that should be the case, especially considering that Bruce was the only one who hadn’t shown any fighting skills or special powers, but the Avengers seemed to think he was making a good point. When the others had departed for their respective destinations and only he, Bruce, and Tony were left in the room, Peter couldn’t contain himself any longer. “All of us should be getting out of here. This isn’t worth the risk.”
Tony didn’t even acknowledge that he had spoken, but Bruce answered him in a flat tone without looking at him. “If we let the tower fall, the shrapnel’s going to cause a ring of destruction all around it. Anyone nearby could be killed.”
“Yeah,” Peter snapped, “especially if we’re too busy dying ourselves to get out there and save them.”
Bruce turned to Tony, who was busy tearing additional panels off of the wall to widen the hole. His voice was lowered, but not enough that Peter couldn’t hear: “I could work this myself. You suit up and clear the perimeter. Just consider it.”
“This isn’t your arena,” Tony replied. His eyes were on the machinery, but his voice got more and more agitated as he spoke. “If we can’t solve it together in the next hour, you don’t stand a chance solving it on your own if you work on it all night. This tower isn’t just a goddamn symbol. It’s not some pet project. You want to cripple the Avengers when the next threat might be around the corner? Fine, but the whole city’s economy is tied up in here with equipment I can’t replace without years of rebuilding, including Jarvis’s core processors. So don’t tell me,” he finished, whirling around to face Peter, “what isn’t worth the risk!”
There was a muffled chime. Tony took his phone from his pocket, looked at it, and said, “Access granted. Activate the cameras.” He went back to ignoring Peter, concentrating on the monitors which he was now setting up to display views of several different places within the tower. A man and a woman wearing lab coats and carrying black cases were hurrying inside from the rooftop entrance. From the wide glances they were casting around themselves, Peter judged that they had never been here before. So this was the bomb squad they had been promised, then.
Peter slumped down against the wall. The handcuffs that he was wearing enclosed each of his wrists from mid-forearm to knuckle joint, and he was increasingly uncomfortable in them. He wondered what had happened to his boots and jacket. He wondered how Gamora was doing. He thought about Rocket, and was surprised by the intensity of the anger he felt toward his erstwhile teammate even before the equally intense anxiety on his behalf kicked in.
Tony and Bruce were hunched together over a three-dimensional display, speaking so quickly that Peter couldn’t even follow the conversation, let alone comprehend the vocabulary they were using. When the door to the control room opened, their heads both jerked up in unison, examining the new arrivals for a matter of seconds before returning to their discussion.
Peter looked up from his seat on the floor and attempted to wave with his bound hands. “Hi.” Neither of the technicians gave him more than a momentary, confused look before crossing the room to Tony and Bruce.
The woman spoke first, seamlessly insinuating herself into their focus without appearing to interrupt what they were saying. “Mr. Stark, what a thrill, I’m Agent Simmons, this is Agent Fitz, no time for proper introductions of course, just brief us in any way you can, we’ll take it from there.”
Her companion said only, “It’s an honor sir,” dipping his head respectfully, and then stood waiting for instructions.
Tony was finally giving them his full attention, but even Peter could see he wasn’t pleased. “SHIELD sent you? What are you, their high school science club?”
Peter winced in sympathy for the agents. It was true that they were both much younger than he would have expected, but he was starting to get the sense that Tony was physically unable to cooperate with anyone outside of his own circle.
Agent Simmons stiffened visibly. “Your high standards are public knowledge, Mr. Stark, but it seems to me that establishing our credentials would require time better spent on the problem at hand.”
“Yeah,” Peter called, figuring that if nobody was listening to him, he was free to say whatever he wanted. “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘mass grave’, numbskull.”
Tony shot a glare at everyone except Bruce, but said only, “Alright, fine, listen. I just need your creds on two things. First, how familiar are you with Arc Reactor technology?”
This time, Agent Fitz was the one who answered. “I’ve read everything you’ve published on the subject and all of the studies that challenged or supported your theories and also the pamphlet that was taken out of circulation in 2009 for using quotations that were incorrectly attributed to Howard Stark even though it described the groundbreaking method of--”
Tony waved a hand to halt him. “That’ll do. You two will take the Arc Reactor lab, top floor. Don’t mess with the AV systems. Second question, can you keep your cool working with distractions around you?”
Fitz and Simmons exchanged a glance with each other before Simmons replied, “We have ample experience with distractions, yes.”
“Great.” Tony gestured at Peter. “Take him with you.”
Peter braced against the wall to stand up, too relieved to be getting away from Tony to object to being labeled a distraction. “If my team wins, do I get a get-out-of-jail-free card?” he asked.
Bruce, who hadn’t participated in the conversation since nodding a greeting at the agents, looked up from the holograph to tell Peter, “Tell them whatever they need to know about what happened here. Then clam up and let them work. We’ll have cameras on you the whole time.”
“Try anything,” Tony added, “and I can use those cuffs to blow your arms off at the elbow.”
Peter looked down at his arms and shrugged. The bomb squad gathered up their equipment and the communicator devices that Tony had offered them, and Peter followed them out the door. As they made their way through the building, he tried to find succinct answers to their questions about who he was, what he was doing here, and why Rocket was trying to destroy the Avengers’ headquarters. He was prepared to meet with skepticism and ridicule, but they seemed more inclined to listen than judge, and they had a talent for knowing exactly what to ask to get to the heart of the matter instead of being drawn into digressions.
It felt good to be taken seriously for once, even if their manner was too professional to be deemed friendly, and Peter decided that they deserved his complete honesty even when he wasn’t proud of what he had to say. When this was all over, maybe they could be his Terran contacts instead of the Avengers. He would have to find out more about them, of course. All he could glean so far was that they talked in an accent he remembered from certain television shows of his childhood.
By the time they reached the top floor, he was relating the most recent parts of his story, and Simmons prompted him with, “Then where is Rocket now?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I think he’ll hide for as long as he can, but...he really isn’t safe out there alone. And he’s not the type to swallow his pride and come find us.”
“And the others in your team,” she said as the door to the top-floor lab opened for them, “what sort of people are they?”
Peter was on the defensive before he even realized that this was the first roadblock to his resolution to be honest with them. “That’s not really relevant, is it?” he countered. “They had nothing to do with the virus, that was all Rocket.”
“But they’re not human?” she pressed. “We know of a few alien races. Perhaps you could tell us, oh, their skin color?”
Fitz had dashed ahead to the master console in the room as soon as they entered, but now he turned to look at Simmons. “Oh,” he said, eyes wide. “Oh. Green?”
Peter’s heart jumped into his throat. “How do you - they - please, if you know anything, they’re my friends, I have to know...”
Before any of them could say any more, everything on the console lit up, and Fitz and Simmons both started talking into their comms. “Yes I read,” said Simmons with an apologetic glance at Peter. “Yes, the holotable is turned on. We’re receiving the projection. Agent Fitz has identified the invasive command’s programming.”
A string of technobabble followed, and Peter turned his face to the wall in despair, knowing that he couldn’t interrupt them now even if he tried. Long minutes stretched by, and Peter was starting to imagine that he could feel the floor quivering under his feet when he suddenly noticed that Fitz and Simmons were now talking to each other instead of to the control room. He looked up at them hopefully.
“Are you getting anywhere?” he asked, trying to sound like that was what he cared about.
Simmons nodded absently. “The first step is to determine how long we have until the self-destruct sequence begins. If it’s longer than six hours, we can afford to be thorough, but if it’s any less, even as little as four or five, we may have to take a few shortcuts. They won’t endanger the building itself, but the method may involve some damage to Mr. Stark’s AI system, and he’s understandably reluctant to take that path unless absolutely necessary.”
“That’s nice,” said Peter tonelessly. “Please tell me if you’ve seen my friends.”
“They’re fine,” said Fitz. He was the one who had been doing most of the typing, button-pushing, and switch-flipping, and Peter was surprised to hear him speak at all, but his eyes remained glued to the monitor even as he continued. “That green lady and the strongman. Yeah. We only saw them for a tic but our boss said we’re negotiating an alliance. They’re on our bus. We took the jump jet here.”
Peter instantly ran over to get closer to Fitz, a hundred questions on his tongue. Fitz looked startled, then winced and flipped a switch on the AV panel, causing Tony’s voice to come booming out of a speaker. “That’s enough gossip, Quill. We’ve all got jobs to do and yours is to sit still and not waste our time by making someone find some duct tape to put over your mouth.”
“What’s yours?” Peter retorted, knowing that Tony could probably hear him from anywhere but directing his voice at the console anyway. “Kidnapping and terrorizing everyone until their minds snap?”
“If there was anything I did that makes me responsible for Rocket going mental, it was feeding him after midnight.”
“Okay, I get that reference, but it’s not funny.”
Fitz tapped Peter on the shoulder. “Ah, Mr. Quill. If you could just sit down over there. You’re blocking the output panel.”
Peter pushed off of the console and turned away, fuming, to throw himself into an empty chair. After a few more minutes of quietly exchanging information with Tony, Simmons apparently found a free moment and approached him. “I know what you’re going through,” she said kindly. “It’s very hard to be separated from your team. But there isn’t very much we can tell you at the moment, and our first priority is to finish this job without losing anyone.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, staring at the floor. “And hey, that's great. But I already lost someone today, and I still have to figure out how I’m going to explain all this to the others. I’m in no kind of mood to get pushed around by that prissy nerd.”
“Hey!” called Fitz from the console.
Peter smiled. “Not you. Stark. Sorry.”
“Stark’s his hero,” Simmons explained in a stage whisper. “He’s probably fantasizing about having a good engineering chat with him once we’ve saved the day.” She giggled. “No more than I am about picking Dr. Banner’s brain on bio-chem, of course.”
“Jemma, I’ve got it,” said Fitz, and she immediately returned to his side. “There’s no straightforward timer on anything that he added to the system, but everything in the tower’s infrastructure uses a standard 24-hour clock, so I pulled the history of the changes and now we just have to solve this to find the time left until the detonation program activates, right down to the minute.”
He rattled off a complex equation, and then both of them simultaneously began to speak and stopped before a single syllable was out. “What is it?” asked Peter. “More than six hours? Less than six hours? Two years? A surprise implosion two years down the line sounds like the kind of thing Rocket would do.”
Neither agent answered him. “That can’t be right,” Simmons said to Fitz.
“I’ll triple check it,” he suggested, then typed in some more code and recited the same sequence of variables again.
“Perhaps we should let the computer solve it.”
“I just did. It’s the same.”
Peter stood up, coming closer but leaving a respectful distance. “Guys, don’t duct tape me for this, but please. I don’t speak math. How much time do we have?”
Their mutual hesitation was foreboding enough that he wished he hadn’t asked. Then Fitz swallowed, shared one more nervous look with Simmons, and said, “Twenty minutes.”