Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) [WIP]

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Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) [WIP]

Post by Whimsicality » Sun Jun 16, 2013 7:26 pm

Title: Ekphrasis
Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing, all characters and original Roswell/Marvel verse settings belong to other very lucky people, as do all lyrics quoted for the chapter titles.
Pairings/Couples/Category: UC/Crossover. Liz/Bruce, Ava/Darcy, Thor/Jane, Tony/Pepper, other pairings will be incorporated as the story continues.
Rating: Adult
Summary: In which the smallest of small town girls (who saved the world once or twice) becomes an Avenger and starts doing it full time.
Warnings: Liz’s inner monologue has a potty mouth so expect a lot of adult language, there are also several bisexual characters so if that bothers you, please go read something else, otherwise expect canon levels of violence, etc. Also, be warned that italics and parentheses are used and abused in this story. (And that Adult rating will be lived up to in the future.)

Author's Note: All hail to Erratic Hippie who has been betaing this story for me, you should all be very, very grateful to her for minimizing the amount of run-on-sentence-paragraph things. The ones that are left are totally not her fault. (We have spirited negotiations over commas. Which means I pout and whine and she makes it better. It’s a thing.)

Also, this is more of a fusion than a true crossover. Basically Roswell is set in the Marvel (movie) verse. As for the timeline of when it’s set, that you will discover as you read :D Enjoy!

tonight i’ll have a look and try to find my face again
(In which Tess doesn’t let Michael leave, the humans don’t get there in time, and Liz is Done.)

Maria is driving, knuckles white against the steering wheel and tears trembling in her eyes, tinting everything green; Liz is in the passenger seat, wavering between hysteria and fury as her nails dig crescent moons into her palms until blood stains their unpainted surfaces; and Kyle is in the back, holding his head in his hands and trying to forget the heavy weight of Alex's dead body in his arms.

They're not going to make it in time.

Liz knows this, deep in her bones, and she also knows that they can't stop because maybe she's wrong, she's been wrong before, and this time she needs to be wrong because it can't end like this. Alex's killer does not just get to leave the planet with her bastard child and the lover that should never have been hers. Alex deserves better. Tess deserves worse.

Maria swerves, kicking up red desert sand with the Jetta’s tires, and they all pile out of the trusty, battered vehicle before the engine has stopped rattling. Liz leads the sprint toward the pile of rocks that houses the granilith and the fate of their friends, her pulse a bitter beat she can taste like tabasco on her tongue. She pounds on the stone wall until her hands are scraped and bleeding and her throat is hoarse from screaming – first pleas, and then obscenities. She has to be wrong, she has to.

Kyle pulls her away when the ground begins to shake and she struggles against him until small rocks begin to fall, one striking her arm with a sudden, sharp pain that won't actually hurt until days later. Blood trickles sluggishly down her elbow and she goes limp in his arms as the realization that she wasn't wrong, that she failed, sinks in.

The ground continues to shake, rocks continue to fall, and one shuddering breath later, everything explodes. When she can see again, the cave is gone, they are gone, and only rubble remains.

Liz stares at the sky, at the dust sparkling in the air, and goes numb. Her brain, still processing too fast and too slow all at once, spits out the knowledge that three people she deeply cares for (and one she hates more than she ever thought she could hate anyone) are no longer on Earth and there is nothing she can do about it. Gone, just like that, a poof of alien science and the world is tilting on its axis, future careening out of control.

They will either rule their planet, or suffer unjust fates on all counts if Tess betrayed them too and not just AlexwhydidshekillyouAlexpleaseno.

Swallowing her scream, Liz turns to Maria and Kyle, also staring at the sky with wide, grief stricken eyes, and shakes her head until she feels a little less dizzy but no less despairing. "I'm done."

So done. So far past done that they need to invent a new word for how done she is. She hasn't stopped being heartbroken or furious or terrified or all of the above since she kissed Max last year and found the empty, howling abyss that was Nasedo instead. She is tired, of pain and hope and devastation, and it needs to stop.

Kyle reacts first, lowering his head to stare at her with blue eyes that are tired and angry and sad and so familiar it hurts. "Liz Parker never quits," he says, with the quiet confidence of someone who has been on the other end of Liz never quitting.

Liz shakes her head again and wraps an arm around Maria's shoulders, who is now trembling as tears run heedlessly down her face, dripping past lips that are painfully, wrongly, silent. "This time, she does," she answers with the bitter grief of someone who has lost a best friend because Liz Parker never quits. "We can't get them back. We can't help them. We can get ourselves killed, or worse, if the government ever decides we know what happened here. It's over."

And she won’t let that happen, can’t let that happen, can’t lose anyone else, not to this, to alien conspiracies and stupid, stubborn, teenagers who think they can fix things.

Kyle doesn't argue again, just helps her get Maria in the car and drives them back to Roswell because Maria's shaking too badly and Liz isn't sure she'll be able to stop if she takes the wheel.

It's not running away when there's no one left to run from.

They end up at Kyle's house; no one ready to be alone although not one word is spoken, all of them trapped in hours of silence more loud than any explosion. Maria is sleeping on the couch, her head pillowed in Liz's lap, while Liz and Kyle silently ignore late night cartoons, when the Sheriff gets home. He looks at their pale, drawn faces, and the lines around his eyes deepen. "I'll let you know when we get the call about the jeep," he says solemnly, squeezes Kyle's shoulder, and leaves them to their grief.

Liz and Maria leave in the morning; it's Saturday but they have work and they have long since learned that normal life does not wait for the aftermath of alien crises or heartbreak to pass. Maria is quieter than Liz has ever seen her, but it is all she can do to hold her own smile on her face so she does not yet have the ability to help her best friend deal with the empty, gaping hole inside of them. It is half past one when the Sheriff walks in, stone-faced with eyes just a bit too shiny under the glow of the artificial lights. Liz swallows and places a hand on Maria's suddenly shaking arm as Jim walks up to her father, exchanging a few murmured words that cause him to pale and dart worried glances in their direction, before approaching the two of them with heavy steps that echo in time with her heartbeat.

Liz wonders if she’ll ever stop being afraid of the words he might speak, even as she knows she’ll never be afraid of the man (in or out of uniform) again.

"I've already told the Evans," he says, too quiet for anyone else to hear. "When they're...recovered, I will work with them to arrange," he pauses, for his benefit, not theirs, and takes a steadying breath before continuing, "funerals for all four of them."

Maria makes a broken, hurt noise in the back of her throat and Liz catches her before she falls. She allows enough grief to show on her face to be believable, but not enough to touch the wellspring of pain and rage that is boiling beneath the ice in her veins. (It is not safe for that to be let out, for anyone, not ever.) Her father comes running, wrapping his arms around her and her best friend, and she knows that in death, all of Max's faults will be forgiven.

It's done. It's over. And now it's time to learn how to be Liz Parker, smallest of small town girls again, because she refuses to stop living just because she's forgotten how to do so without Alex and Max and Isabel and Michael and ragepainfeargrief being the center of that life.

They survive the funerals, somehow, even Tess's, while Kyle shakes with quiet fury and the Sheriff mourns because they never told him, not wanting to burden him with more pain than they have already caused.

Afterwards, they pick up the pieces and slowly begin to move on. Liz throws herself into normal life with a fierceness that thrills and terrifies her parents by turn. She aces every class, buries herself in every extracurricular she can think of, and one year after Alexthegraniliththey'regoneandthey'renevercomingback, she accepts the offer from Brown because she isn't the girl who dreamt of Harvard any longer.

That summer she spends every second with Kyle and Maria, the other two-thirds of the person she's become, and on the last night before she leaves they all get spectacularly drunk and say the things none of them have said since that day in the desert when seven lives ended and three began. "I love you," she tells them, completely sober for one second, and Kyle hugs her while Maria kisses her forehead and then they fall over, laughing, as the warm buzz of alcohol (family) carries them away again.

She double majors in molecular biology and physics because granilithtimetravelrippingthefabricoftimeandspace and when people tell her she's crazy she considers her course load and agrees. Then goes back to work with a smile on her face because she's learning, everything, and it's fucking fantastic.

At nineteen she melts her alarm clock one morning after less than three hours of sleep and stares at the green flickers underneath her skin with horror and fascination. Is this what Ava meant when she said that Liz was different now? Liz used to feel it, the changes, she wrote about the intensity filling her body in the journal she's long since destroyed, but then, then future Max, and Alex, and she stopped listening to her body, stopped listening to anyone until it was too late.

Whatever it is, she is desperately grateful that this didn't happen in high school, didn't happen when the FBI was still dogging their every footstep, because she knows she would have ended up on a lab table and they would have never let her go. (Although some part of her, a voice in the back of her mind she's never been able to muzzle, wonders if things would have been different if she'd developed powers back then. Maybe everything would have turned out better. She's suddenly, fiercely, glad (and furiously sad) that the granilith is gone and that she has absolutely no ability to meddle with time, again.)

She learns to control the electricity that sparks when she's upset, and the molecular manipulation that follows after, and pretends that she doesn't sometimes dream things before they happen. She learns, controls, and compartmentalizes it all into a box in the back of her mind, calls Kyle to warn him, and goes back to being normal because goddamnit she is finally living the life she always wanted and she's not giving it up now.

She loses her virginity at twenty to a boy she meets in the library, and loses it again the next night to her roommate who finally confesses her crush and proceeds to show Liz why she and Maria shouldn't have stopped experimenting at kissing back in ninth grade. (When she tells Maria and Kyle this on one of their weekly Skype calls, Kyle blushes and his eyes go a little glazed with 'what ifs' and Maria laughs and admits that she's already had four boyfriends and three girlfriends (occasionally at the same time) but that Liz is her sister and that's just weird.)

It's not what people in Roswell would expect of her, for her, but she threw Perfect Miss Parker under the bus years ago and hasn't looked back once. (And thank fucking God because Perfect Miss Parker was Perfectly Awful and Liz, Liz is much more fun, and much more real.) Living, doing the normal things that people her age do instead of things most people could never dream of, there’s something magic about it that she knows she’ll never stop appreciating.

There are others, male and female, before she reaches her fourth year of two majors and drops every remnant of a social life as she works her ass off to get both degrees done in less than five years.

(One night during her last spring break, on one of her rare visits home – because oh my god she is crazy and if she looks at one more textbook she will scream – she curls up with Maria and Kyle on Kyle's couch again, sharing a bottle of whiskey, and tells them about quantum immortality. "So you know the theory of the multiverse right? That every decision, or at least every significant decision, that you make, creates multiple universes based on your choices. So that there's a universe out there where you said yes to that proposal at seventeen, and one where you said no, and then an infinite number after that for every following turning point in your life, including the ones that have more than two options and thus create more possible outcomes."

"Only you, Liz Parker, could give me this big of a headache before the hangover," Maria mutters, affectionately pinching Liz's side, then steals the bottle of whiskey from her and takes another swig before Kyle shushes her and gestures for Liz to continue.

Liz rolls her eyes with equal affection, tickles Maria's feet, waits for the giggles to subside, and resumes her train of thought. "So, quantum immortality is the idea that when you die, your soul or consciousness or whatever, snaps over to the next universe, the one most similar to the one you were living in, and you don't actually die. And this continues, basically forever, every time one version of you dies."

"Alex," Kyle says, quietly, and Liz nods as Maria suddenly stills, setting the whiskey bottle on the floor and pulling them both closer until they're a tangled pile of limbs and heartbeats and smiles and unshed tears.

"He's out there," Maria says firmly, one hand curled in Liz's hair, the other wrapped around Kyle's ankle. "Rocking out a sold out concert while girls throw panties at him."

"Or rocking the geek world, working for alternate universe Tony Stark," Liz adds with a grin that only shakes a little at the edges.

"I always pictured him reincarnated as a guitar pick, but I like this theory too," Kyle muses, and the girls both laugh and hold him tighter and they spend the rest of the night remembering until the Sheriff comes in at three in the morning and steals their second whiskey bottle.)

The summer before her last semester (two majors and a minor – anthropology, for her grandmother – in five semesters and god does that feel good, even if her distinctively competitive side sometimes mourns the early graduation she gave up for alien hunting and teenage romance) she needs some hands on experience and goes hunting for internships.

When she sees the listing for Drs. Foster and Selvig, astrophysicists, and the description of their research, it scrapes like sandpaper against old wounds and she almost clicks away. But, despite not being her specialty (she's debating between biophysics and quantum mechanics for her masters in that field), it's close to home and she'll be able to visit Kyle and Maria at UNM (none of them like to actually go home for the summer, or like summer at all, really), so she sends off her resume and pretends she's a normal girl who never looked at the stars and knew there was something out there.

She's done it, she's doing it, and no matter where she goes next, she knows she's finally on the right track.

No more alien madness, no more hiding and lying and nightmares that bleed into the real world.

She's Liz Parker and her life is her own.

A/N: The chapter title is a lyric from the song Back Against the Wall by Cage the Elephant.
Last edited by Whimsicality on Tue Nov 11, 2014 5:34 pm, edited 9 times in total.

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There was nothing more she wanted to do than crawl back into bed, wrap herself in Michael, and spend the day trading kisses and learning what made him sigh, what made his breath catch, what made him purr in the back of his throat. - Liz in Hunted by Ashita

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter One ~

Post by Whimsicality » Sun Jun 23, 2013 7:08 pm

Roswellgurlygirl16: Thank you! And I agree, I'm already on chapter seven and 40k words in, there's a LOT of potential with this verse and it's driving my muse crazy :lol:
pandas2001: Thanks for commenting!
cupcake_55: Thank you very much! I hope you enjoy this chapter!
Yasmania: Thank you! It's all I've been able to write for weeks so I'm glad other's are finding it interesting :lol:. And yes, it is Mark cause I think he's adorable and played Bruce perfectly in the movie, but if you don't find him attractive, you can feel free to picture Edward Norton or anyone else you care to :wink:

A/N: So, as the end of the last chapter may have indicated for those familiar with the Marvelverse, this chapter centers around the events of the movie Thor. If you have not seen it, this might get confusing as I skim through it and fair warning, it will spoil the ending for you. (Also it’s on Netflix instant streaming right now, and Amazon Instant Video if you have a prime membership, so go watch it :D) If you have seen it, then this will simply touch again on scenes you already know with the addition of Liz, who doesn’t end up changing anything really. Yet. ;)

This is also the worst chapter for parentheses abuse, so yeah, sorry about that :oops:

and has no time to rest but she’s smiling anyway
(In which Jane and Erik have just enough money for two interns and the universe makes it very clear to Liz that she is not, in fact, done.)

She gets the job and discovers that she's not the only one when she's directed to the cots that pass for the 'room and board' part of the contract and finds that one has already been claimed by an obnoxiously orange backpack. It takes the two girls a while to figure things out, but eventually they settle into a routine: Darcy (the owner of the aforementioned backpack) takes care of the coffee and the common sense and the pointing out of the obvious and the babysitting of the scientists who don't know when to sleep or eat (this includes Liz) and Liz takes care of the actual intern part.

(Maria and Kyle laugh at this knowledge and demand to meet Darcy, who is confused at first by these exuberant strangers on Liz’s laptop screen, but rolls with the punches and agrees that Liz in research mode definitely needs a caretaker and that yes she promises to both ensure her survival and take embarrassing pictures for later blackmail, which earns her the permanent loyalty of Liz’s less than stable family.)

Jane is scatterbrained when it comes to real life and brilliant when it comes to science. Liz wanted to be her when she grew up, not too long ago, and she enjoys every moment working for a woman so completely in love with what she does, and absorbs every scrap of knowledge that falls, knowing and unknowing, from every ecstatic, determined twist of Jane's lips. Dr. Foster, she thinks with affectionate awe, and dreams of the day it will be Dr. Parker awing and terrifying and amusing her interns.

Erik is gruff and practical (reminding Liz of herself before the universe taught her that anything is possible), but kind, with a fondness for alcohol that provides endless amusement for Liz and Darcy, especially when he devolves into Swedish and forgets that they can't understand him. (Not to mention when he tries to sing; those moments are backed up on video files on several different devices for future need.)

And Darcy, Darcy is the badass, hilarious friend she never knew she needed, who cares for, mocks, and inspires her every day and whom she doesn't intend to lose touch with once this internship is over. She thinks Darcy could have out-snarked Michael, a feat considered impossible by most, and her mind is dirtier than a cesspool with enough creativity that Liz wants to invent a new word for the blush-laugh-excitement that results from many of her comments.

The research still isn't her field, but it is fascinating, and she's drawn in more everyday by Jane's excitement and the possibilities of what she might discover. (Bridges between space and time? Forget her alien angst ridden past, her inner geek is vibrating with enthusiasm at the very idea and she touches the picture of Alex glued to her laptop case with a pang and a smile because he would have given his left kidney to do what she’s doing even if computers were more his thing (and who knows? maybe he is, somewhere out there, in a universe not quite like this one).)

So she doesn't complain about the lack of sleep or the ramen and poptart diet or being dragged into the middle of the desert long past her bedtime (it's not like it's the first time after all) because the camaraderie is fun, the science is thrilling, and the smell of New Mexico is the smell of home.

(Although Puente Antiguo is conveniently just far enough from Roswell to make regular visits home unfeasible, something her parents hate and Liz is quietly grateful for. Roswell still hurts.)

Kyle and Maria make the drive several times and those days are filled with laughter and hugs and silent conversations that fill rooms and Darcy’s petulant disbelief that neither she nor Kyle drinks alcohol anymore. “You’re too young to give up the grog!”

Life, she thinks one evening, while watching the setting sun paint the desert red and gold, is amazing. Not a new thought for a biology major, but a welcome one all the same.

Later that night, while on the trail of the pattern of weather phenomena Jane is studying, she smells ozone instead of creosote and feels her heart fall into her stomach as the sky opens up above them. Jane and Darcy wrestle with the wheel, one in unbridled joy and the other in justified fear, while Liz and Erik try to remain standing and Liz wishes there were more seat-belts. Something, someone, appears in the midst of the unearthly light and there is a thud as they collide and the RV spins off course. Liz clutches the back of Darcy's seat and prays, fiercely and desperately, for her life to remain normal.

In vain, of course, those sorts of prayers never work and Liz doesn’t believe in God anyways, but oh, sometimes she wishes for miracles. (And then curses herself and stomps that wish out of existence because look where the last miracle got her.)

They stare at the blond man on the ground and Liz silently echoes Jane's plea as to the state of his health. She doesn't know him, she doesn't think he's human, and she really really doesn't want to listen to her conscience later if it turns out he needs help and she didn't heal him. And she absolutely refuses to lay her hands on him to find out, even though she agrees with Darcy that under normal circumstances (ha!) she’d be more than willing to offer the very pretty man CPR.

"Where did he come from?" Jane asks and Liz bites back her instinctive sarcastic and bitter response. Then he's rambling like a mad man (or someone too far from home her brain (conscience) whispers) and Jane is ignoring him in favor of science(!) and Liz feels destiny spinning around them and hates it.

Maybe Kyle is right, maybe everyone really is reincarnated. Because she must have pissed someone off in a past life to deserve this level of science fiction fuckery. Seriously, how many people experience this many alien encounters by the time they're twenty-three? And if the answer is more than one, she would like the number for the support group, please and thank you.

Darcy's taser puts an end to everyone’s nonsense and Liz suddenly grins (with only the tiniest touch of hysteria) as she helps her and Erik load the heavy man into the RV. At least she has good company for whatever fucked up ride they just got on. Which reminds her to make a mental note not to miss her next Skype call with Maria and Kyle – secrets don't exist among them, not anymore, and they deserve (need) to hear about her life refusing to be normal again.

Maybe Kyle can recommend some meditation exercises for the anger/panic issues she anticipates arising in her near future.

She knows when they leave the man at the hospital that they'll be seeing him again, common sense and that sharp edge of foreknowledge that sometimes cuts through her mind. But she pretends and helps Darcy sort through the data, affectionately bickering over their preferred organizational schemas, while Jane and Erik debate the possibilities.

A small, cowardly, and still tired part of her contemplates driving off to visit Kyle and Maria and not coming back until the creeping fingers of fate have fucked right off back to wherever they came from.

But she doesn't – because Liz Parker never quits – and when they go back to the hospital to find Thor she goes along with another, smaller, smile on her face. When there's no way out, you might as well give in gracefully, and she's not a scared teenager this time around. She can do this, she can be the plucky research assistant instead of the star-crossed lover; maybe things will turn out better for that role.

Thor is loud, but friendly, and the cultural differences are quite apparent long before he shatters his coffee mug on the floor, leaving Liz to wonder what Max and the others would have been like had they remembered their Antarian heritage.

She sees the sparks between Jane and Thor as she studies the man she’s sure is extraterrestrial (extradimensional?) and her heart clenches as she holds back warning words about the follies of interspecies – interstellar – relationships. (And yes she is (reluctantly) quite sure he is that Thor because her luck won't allow for anything else and his voice tastes like truth.) But as Thor kisses Jane's hand and they walk away again (and again she knows it's not the end, far from it), she knows it's too late.

She doesn't know what happened to the girl who believed you make your own destiny (she still believes that, kind of, most days,) but she's become reconciled to the idea that some things are inevitable, and free will comes down to what you choose to do after those moments occur.

She's made plenty of wrong choices after those moments (breaking up with a boy to prevent the end of the world, because that makes sense), and some right ones (moving on, holding Kyle and Maria close, not giving up on the truth about Alex.) She can only hope that she'll make more of the latter than the former during this particular paradigm shift in her reality.

Another of said moments is right around the corner, waiting like the monster in the closet, wearing shiny shoes and an ear piece. Fear, like thick black tar that wraps around her heart and lungs with strangling tentacles, consumes her as men in government issue suits swarm over Jane's research and take everything, right down to Darcy's iPod.

They've been gone for several minutes before she can breathe properly again, and her heart is still stubbornly trying to prove that it's alive by beating the ever living hell out of her ribcage. Holding a hand to her chest, she's grateful that the others' outrage over the high handed theft has prevented them from noticing her panic attack, the first she's had in a long, long time. She hates being afraid, and she hates being out of control even more, and she hates that she's been conditioned to have this fear.

Lowering her hand once her heart has slowed a little, she digs her nails into her palms and breathes. She's alive. They're all alive. She’s not strapped to a table or on the ground with a smoking hole between her eyes so whoever those men are, they have nothing to do with whatever remnants still exist of the special unit, and that means that things are not nearly as bad as they could be. Which is either a sign of hope, or a sign to brace for worse to come, depending on how you read the glass.

Whoever they are, they took her laptop, which means she’ll be missing that Skype call after all and that’s not going to end well, for anyone. Fuck. Fuck. Why does the government always have to be involved in every abnormal event that falls into her lap?

Looks like dissection will be featuring heavily in her nightmares for a while; unfortunately a degree in molecular biology lends a certain vivid verisimilitude to such dreams (not to mention her still perfectly clear memories of what was done to Max, gleaned in the most hopeful and painful kiss of her life.)

Sometimes she ignores her inner (and outer) scientist and hopes that there's a hell, because Daniel Pierce deserved a lot worse than a quick death.

She shoves down her panic and her anger and her desperate desire to run as fast and as far as she can and continues to lend her support and friendship to Jane and Darcy and Erik as they try to figure out what they're supposed to do (or even can do) next. After Erik finishes with the public computer, she shoots an e-mail off to Maria and Kyle that should hold off the worst of their curiosity and wishes that the smell of bookstore soothed her the way it normally did.

Her and Darcy really deserve more than six credits for this, and Jane sure as hell deserves better than to have all of her research, her life, stolen just because the government doesn't want certain secrets to get out.

God, her life is such a fucking soap opera. Only without the incest and the multiple divorces and the people who aren't really dead. (Which, fuck that, because if her life has to be filled with this much drama, the least the universe could do is bring Alex back to life.)

She wonders, idly, as she stares blankly at a book she's probably already read, when exactly she started swearing so much.

Jane disappears at some point, much to no one's surprise as Erik mutters curses in Swedish and her and Darcy exchange fondly exasperated glances. Liz hopes Thor is worth it, hopes he doesn't destroy Jane's life more than his mere existence already has, and settles in to wait.

Waiting is by far the hardest part of any crisis situation, this she knows, and sadly experience removes none of the agonizing anxiety that is part and parcel of the moments between action.

Jane calls, after a few hours of tense conversational attempts and failed distractions, and Liz is amazed and amused when Darcy hacks into the DMV to scramble together a fake license for Thor, wishing not for the first or last time that Alex could have met her. Against all possibility (and really, there is no way the government fell for anything Erik said – he is the worst liar – or that ID, however impressive a feat it was), they let Thor go and he ends up making them breakfast the next morning, a turn of events so surreal that Liz can't really parse it.

She's dealt with coming back from the dead, time travel, and alien parasites almost destroying the world, but a Norse god making her scrambled eggs, that's, well, that's insane

(It's amazing the things that can tip you over the edge. Maria once survived wrecking her car (the first replacement of the much mourned Jetta), missing her flight, and finding out she failed one of her finals, only to lose it over breaking her nail at the baggage claim when Liz picked her up the next day.)

And then there's more gods (aliens? whatever) and the surrealness peaks over into the maybe I'm hallucinating zone as Liz catches herself checking out Sif, a goddess who could take her apart with her pinky and look damn good while doing it. Of course, she notices Darcy doing the same thing a moment later and they exchange conspiratorial grins as the conversation swirls around them.

The scent of ozone fills the air again and something impacts the desert floor with an echoing thud of doom that Liz would swear on her life is not just her finely honed (by first Maria and then Darcy, natch) sense of melodrama. She helps the others get everyone out of town and begins to consider the unthinkable. What use is protecting herself by hiding her powers if she lets herself (or anyone else) get killed?

Is she prepared to be more than Liz Parker, intern and crazy college student, again? Does she even have a choice in the matter?

Perhaps the better question is whether or not she wants to wake up tomorrow (assuming she lives that long) regretting what she did, or regretting what she didn't do.

The sight of Sif and the other warriors flying through the air decides her and she takes a step, then another, toward the giant metal beast, summoning every ounce of rage she has carefully buried over the years until her skin is sheathed with green lightning and she can no longer hear the others' shouts, only her own heartbeat as a roaring thunder in her ears.

She feels powerful and she’s pretty sure she likes it.

She raises her hand and a blast of green lightning crashes into the giant, knocking him back. A whole half step and Liz curses before turning and sprinting back toward the others, seeing the shock on Jane and Erik's faces, the appraising looks of their dimensional visitors, and Darcy's wide, manic grin. "That," her fellow intern says gleefully, "Is so much cooler than a taser.”

Liz wants to laugh, and kind of wants to cry, at the acceptance inherent in those words, but she has a sickening feeling that they're all about to be turned into streaks of ash and bone on the pavement so she settles for grinning back just as manically as she joins them in huddling behind an all too fragile building.

The battle continues, Sif falling to the ground once again as Thor sprints to her side, and Liz can see the exact moment Thor decides to sacrifice himself for them.

Well, that answers that question. He is worth it, and against every self-preservation instinct she has, she stubbornly prays for a miracle again as she hopes that he lives long enough for Jane to actually enjoy that fact.

The universe, once again, says no.

After he falls, the world goes still for a moment. Jane cries over his body and the rest of them stand there, unable to move or think or speak. It shouldn't have ended like this. Thor, of the sincere blue eyes and boisterous laugh and awkward, alien (but not so alien at that) code of honor, should not have died like that.

It's always the good ones who die, Liz has decided, never the ones who deserve it, and that thought is enough to make her want to curl up in a corner and never get up because she never wants to bury a good person again. She doesn’t even care that that’s irrational because it sucks and it shouldn’t be like that and you know what? Fuck science, fuck reason, fuck all of it because sometimes the good guys should win the day and every child should get a puppy and friends shouldn’t die.

But then, but then, a hammer flies through the sky and lightning blinds them all and the scent of ozone grows into a full-fledged thunderstorm as Thor is unleashed in all his glory, utterly destroying his opponent, and Liz shares another manic grin with Darcy and whoops loudly along with the Warriors Three.

Sometimes destiny doesn't suck and maybe, sometimes, the universe agrees with her.

She sees the incredulous joy on Jane's face and remembers how she felt when they got Max back, alive, from the white room, before their destiny ruined everything, and feels wistful and almost happily nostalgic for once.

It turns out that she really is living in a soap opera, the kind in which people don’t always stay dead, and while painful with what-could've-beens, that fact is also pretty damn awesome.

The government though, you can count on them to rain on any parade, and as Jane goes flying off into the air with her very own delicious god-mobile, the rest of them are stuck staring at bland men in suits with black SUV's that send instinctual terror crawling over Liz's skin. The last time she saw this many agents, they were shooting at her, and she jumped off a bridge.

Ah, high school.

It takes a moment to convince Sif and the other warriors that the RV will be faster than their legs, and Liz is half-hiding behind Erik as she follows him and Darcy toward it when Coulson, Mr. Head Bland Suit himself, stands in front of her with a half-smile that could mean anything at all. "Ms. Parker, why don't you ride with me."

Liz pales and uses every single ounce of control she has to hold back the desire to incinerate him where he stands, the sound of phantom gunshots echoing in her ears.

Darcy gets up in his face with a scowl and a jutted hip that just scream defiance. "If you do anything to her, I'll get Thor to flatten you like a pancake."

Liz chokes back a laugh at that image, suddenly warm and fuzzy on the inside at Darcy's fierce protectiveness and Erik's matching scowl, and steps around them to stand next to Coulson. "I'll go with you. But just as far as wherever Jane and Thor went.”

Coulson nods, his not-quite smile undimmed, and holds open the door of the lead vehicle for her. Liz waves at Darcy and Erik and slides into the seat, ruthlessly controlling every flicker of emotion and electricity that swarms under her skin. Coulson sits across from her and folds his hands in his lap, radiating perfect calm. "So, Ms. Parker, this is not the first time you've had contact with aliens."

"Well, fuck," Liz says before she can stop herself and Coulson arches one eyebrow, smile widening maybe a millimeter.

"Indeed, Ms. Parker."

"I will not be your lab rat, or your weapon," she warns him, her fingers tying themselves into knots as she calculates the speed the vehicle is traveling at and her likelihood of holding them off long enough to reach the others (including Sif and the Warriors Three, whom she has a feeling would be on her side in a conflict of this nature.)

"We have no desire to experiment on you, Ms. Parker, nor control you. However, we may have a job offer for you. After you finish your internship of course," he says with a small nod of acknowledgement that against all reason makes a giggle bubble up in her throat.

She swallows it, and the hysteria behind it, and nods back, her face just as perfectly calm as his. "And maybe, in the future, I will consider that job offer."

"That is all we ask, Ms. Parker," he says with serene confidence.

The rest of the ride passes in silence, and she accepts Darcy's hug when they arrive, the agents parking a discreet distance away, and watches Jane and Thor's tender goodbye before the gods and goddess vanish into the sky. The rest of the night passes in similar silence, and as dawn breaks, and she sees the resignation on Jane's face, Liz finally steps forward and looks her in the eyes. "It's not over. I promise."

Jane looks surprised, then happy, then worried and curious. "How do you know?"

Liz laughs softly and pulls the other woman towards the RV. "Let's just say I have experience with such things, and a little gift for knowing things I shouldn't."

And she does, know. Thor will be back, and so will SHIELD, and things aren't over, for any of them. They may never be over again.

What she doesn't know is what she's going to do about it.

Later, as she sits through an interminable SHIELD briefing and tries not to reveal any more about herself than they already know (which is basically everything, and therefore both absolutely terrifying and not a little infuriating as she wonders when they found out about her and how much of her life between the ages of sixteen and eighteen could have been prevented) – she contemplates the meaning of life.

Is she living in a tragedy or a farce?

She'd loved Calvin and Hobbes as a kid (still does, but that's just common sense; like many things from childhood, Calvin can be appreciated more thoroughly once you've grown up a bit (although he would be horrified by the very idea).) In fact, she'd become friends with Alex after they shared a Calvin and Hobbes book in the library, since, even then, they were both too self-sacrificing to check it out while the other wanted to read it. (And, like most eight-year-olds, the concept of 'wait-your-turn' was lost on them.)

Calvin had a lot to say about life, including that it needed 'more special effects and dance numbers.'

Well, she has all the special effects she can handle, and if anyone starts dancing she's running like hell in the other direction because she's seen that Buffy episode, thank you very much, and is not going out like that. But there is one other quote she remembers. (Alex liked to quote it, especially when they were first starting high school and therefore as terrified as every other adolescent about that particular stage of life/hellhole.) And it is almost painfully applicable to most of the decisions she's made since an alien brought her back to life: 'It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…Let’s go exploring!'

She had, gone exploring (that’s what a scientist is, at their core, an explorer), and gotten lost, and lost others along the way, and now here she is, another adventure dropped in her lap, and further proof that there is more than one magical world out there worth exploring, if she decides to risk it.

She might even get paid for the risk, if she's read Coulson's further, vague little tidbits about that potential future job right.

But is it worth it? Is the risk of losing Maria or Kyle if things go south, worth it? Or Darcy or Jane or Erik for that matter, although in their cases, she has a feeling that decision is well out of her hands.

She doesn’t know. Or rather she does know, but she doesn’t know why. Why is she totally going to say yes whenever Coulson shows up at her door again?

It’s not just because Liz Parker never quits, or rather not just because of it. It’s more about why Liz Parker never quits.

And the answer, she thinks, is because she has never stopped believing that things can be fixed, that people can be saved, and that the world can be better if they decide to make it so.

Kyle will tell her later that it also has something to do with her utter lack of a self-preservation instinct, and Maria will mutter something about a martyr complex and insanity and maybe she should have gone for that psychology degree, and Liz will laugh and kiss them both and laugh some more at their bemused expressions and then agree that she’s crazy and maybe a little lacking in the whole innate drive for survival thing, but tell them that it doesn’t matter.

Because she’s also right.

A/N2: The chapter title is from the song Fire in Her Eyes by Vicci Martinez
Last edited by Whimsicality on Sat Jun 29, 2013 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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There was nothing more she wanted to do than crawl back into bed, wrap herself in Michael, and spend the day trading kisses and learning what made him sigh, what made his breath catch, what made him purr in the back of his throat. - Liz in Hunted by Ashita

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter Two ~

Post by Whimsicality » Sat Jun 29, 2013 6:51 pm

Yasmania: Thanks Yas! I've definitely been having fun writing inner Liz :lol:. I hope you enjoy this chapter too! (Also I empathize on the insomnia, I've done more fic reading than sleeping for the past few weeks.)

A/N: So this chapter covers the time between Thor and the Avengers. I couldn’t find an actual amount of time for that (and probably would have tweaked with it anyways) so just pretend that canon and I get along. Also, I know Avengers had Jane not getting sent off to Norway until after Loki took the Cube, but we’re going to pretend that SHIELD wanted her in a safe place earlier for the sake of my story and not yell at me for messing up details, k? K.

the tip of the iceberg, the sun before the burn
(In which there is a government mandated Study-Abroad program, Darcy gets a girlfriend, and Liz is promoted (demoted?) from intern to Avenger.)
They remain in Puente Antiguo for another three weeks after Jane’s equipment is returned. Then Erik vanishes into some SHIELD facility, and Jane, Darcy, and Liz, are shipped off to Norway ‘for their protection’.

Jane is furious. Liz has never been so certain that she’ll be helping to bury a body, and never so surprised that the likely murderer wouldn’t be her or Darcy or Maria. (Kyle wouldn’t need help hiding the body.) And then wonders what it says about her that Jane is the only friend she has that she doesn’t think is capable of murder.

(Probably nothing good, but fuck if she can bring herself to care. Her friends (family) are awesome.)

But Jane soon discovers that the atmosphere, star positions, and a half dozen other variables in Tromsø, make it an equally suitable location to try to recreate the bridge to Asgard, and is soon once again buried in equations and tracking of weather phenomena and forgetting to eat or sleep or do anything other than science and moon over Thor.

(Unfortunately Norway has a lot of places to find information about Thor, and things to remind her of Thor, and soon Thursday (of course) becomes get drunk and talk about boys/girls/aliens/gods night.)

Liz misses Maria and Kyle desperately, and the desert, no matter how beautiful the snow and ice are, and is trying to adjust her mental thought processes around the concept of ‘being protected by a government agency’ instead of the usual ‘fleeing in terror from a government agency’.

And protection isn’t the only perk. She and Darcy have been set up to finish their degrees at the University of Tromsø and have been given the guarantee that they can either continue with their masters degrees at the same university, or take them at a distance at the university of their choice.

(Darcy has already fallen in love with the Peace and Conflict Transformation masters program at Tromsø, making dozens of quips about the usefulness of such a thing given their new association with aliens and sneaky government agencies and their jack-booted thugs.)

Liz can’t help but be suspicious of such largesse, and the price that may be asked later, but she’s also not an idiot. She recognizes the lack of options she has unless she wants to go on the run and give up her education entirely, and so decides to fully embrace the opportunity and deal with the fallout when it comes.

They arrive in Norway just in time to catch the last week of the midnight sun, a phenomenon they all find fascinating, although it causes Darcy to torture them with Twilight references for weeks, until Jane and Liz gang up on her and threaten to steal her new iPod if she doesn’t stop.

The job of being Jane’s intern hasn’t changed, only now instead of a town so small it makes Roswell look big, there’s an actual city full of people to explore when she’s not in the lab.

She walks the streets of Tromsø, sometimes with Darcy, but usually alone, and absorbs the beauty and history of the place. The city center is nearly entirely composed of wooden buildings, several over two hundred years old, and the churches (old and new) are awe inspiring structures that make her wish she had even the tiniest bit of artistic ability.

Unfortunately, even her stick figures tend to look a little mutated (although her graphs are things of beauty), so she settles for taking dozens of pictures with her cellphone and sending them to Maria and Kyle and her parents every week with little tidbits about her study abroad program (her parents) and the amusing antics of their less than subtle SHIELD stalkers (Maria and Kyle).

(Because really, would it kill them to wear something besides off-the-rack suits? And most of them are just so very bad at blending in. She has a feeling that watching them is considered light duty and good for baby Agents and sometimes it is really difficult for Liz and Darcy to resist the urge to ‘accidentally’ wander into a nudist colony just to see what they would do. They don’t resist the urge to go clubbing more than they usually would though, and have fun making-up competitions for who can get the most people to buy the agents drinks and/or proposition them. Darcy is currently winning, but Liz has a plan, a plan involving costumes and a theme party at one of the local pubs that, at the very least, will be wildly hilarious even if it utterly fails.)

Darcy gets her and Jane hooked on Nordic electronica, techno, and neo-folk music, and occasionally deafens them with Swedish Death Metal tracks that she gets from Erik, who communicates by rare e-mail, apparently significantly involved in some hush-hush SHIELD project.

Liz drags a protesting Darcy to every museum in the city and is deeply amused each and every time she watches Darcy stop bitching two seconds after actually entering the building, only to start dragging Liz around to every exhibit and in general act like a fannish tourist.

The university’s museum is Liz’s favorite, especially the botanic garden. She’s always been amazed by the various and diverse life forms native to her desert home, and finding similar diversity and beauty in an equally forbidding environment thrills the biologist in her right down to her toes.

At night, she listens to Darcy breathe (they were already used to sharing space and so use the third bedroom in the ridiculous apartment SHIELD is paying for as a study room/storage space) and waits for the dreams to take her.

She dreams of Thor, and SHIELD, and other people, heroes, that she hasn’t met yet. She dreams of alien invasions and wakes with the disquieting knowledge that she is not seeing the invasion she’s feared since she found her once-future husband in her bedroom, but something else, something far more imminent and unchangeable. She dreams of possible outcomes, of choices, and decisions, and spends hours staring at blank paper, unable to write any of it down for fear it influences what’s to come.

She doesn’t dream everything though. One day, while meandering around Tromsø alone because she needed to think, she lowers her camera and sees a ghost standing in front of her, blonde curls moving in the breeze, and holds her breath against the urge to incinerate her where she stands. The haze of rage clears and she focuses on the pink stripes dancing amidst the curls and the glints of metal framing an eyebrow, a pair of lips, and decorating a nose. “Ava.”

“Hey Cornball,” the hybrid says with a smile grown warmer and more confident with time. “I was wondering when you’d finally show up.”

Liz realizes she’s not the only one who dreams and smiles back, remembering a scared and lonely teenager who’d told her she was different and tried to comfort her, even though Ava was the one who’d lost everything. “Sorry it took so long.”

Ava laughs and slips her arm through Liz’s. “That’s okay Cornball, I forgive you. Let’s go buy some lunch for us and your girls,” she pauses and shoots Liz a sharp glance as they turn and walk down the sidewalk. “Not your goons though; we’re going to have to talk about them.”

Liz nods after a moment, wondering how much Ava knows about SHIELD and the situation Liz has found herself in, and wondering how much she herself really knows about the people currently protecting her and the job offer she can sense creeping closer by the day.

“How’d you end up here?” she asks the other girl curiously as she steers them toward a café with amazing sandwiches and the giant pickles that Darcy loves.

“Well, with Zan dead and Max gone, Kal, my protector, stopped being quite such an asshole. He helped me get out of the country, gave me a no-limits credit card, and told me not to ever come back,” Ava answers flippantly, hints of old and not-so-old pain beneath the humor in her voice.

“Sounds like a charmer,” Liz says after a moment, and Ava laughs.

“He’s a bastard, but he’s a funny bastard.”

Liz squeezes her arm and pulls her into the café, “Well, let’s spend some of his money, shall we?”

Ava cheerfully agrees and they end up buying a lot more food than Liz typically does on these runs, including the delicious, but expensive, pastries she usually decides aren’t necessary, three of Darcy’s pickles, and as many ridiculous coffee drinks as they can carry.

They talk, about a lot of things, as they make their way back to the apartment, carefully skirting around the more sensitive topics that shouldn’t be discussed in public. Or in a SHIELD provided apartment, now that she thinks about it. She’ll have to take Ava to the park tomorrow – open air and no bugs. She refuses to be so paranoid as to consider lip readers and wonders again, briefly and not for the last time, how she ended up semi-trusting a shadowy government agency and how far, exactly, that trust should extend.

They reach the apartment and make their way up the stairs (it’s more of a house really, with their SHIELD babysitters occupying the bottom floor and Jane, Darcy, and Liz occupying the top) and pause for a moment in front of the door, juggling food and drinks around, before Liz sighs, smiles brightly for any watching cameras, and opens the door with her mind. It’s not like they don’t already know she has powers, and revealing some mild telekinesis is far from giving away every trick in her arsenal.

Ava giggles and Liz grins at her and they strut into the apartment. Darcy has apparently managed to drag Jane away from the lab (warehouse next door, and really, how much money and influence does SHIELD have?) for lunch and Liz raises the bags and drink carrier she’s holding with a triumphant smile. “I brought goodies, and a friend.”

“Oooh, the good noms. Thank god, I was feeling way too lazy to actually make food and I’m pretty sure this pizza is at least three days too old,” Darcy says with a grin as she yanks a plate away from Jane, whose distant gaze indicates that she’s still running equations even without the benefit of her computers (completely different from her distant gaze that indicates she’s thinking about Thor, or the one that means she hasn’t slept in over 72 hours.)

After dumping the plate in the sink, with the pizza still on it much to Liz’s resigned dismay, Darcy holds out her hands in a ‘gimmy’ gesture before her eyes drift to Ava, their gazes locking with an almost audible click as matching flirtatious smiles curve their lips. “Well hello, gorgeous. Liz! Why didn’t you tell me you had a hot, punk friend conveniently hanging out in Tromsø?”

“Because she didn’t know I was here. I would’ve looked her up sooner if I’d know she was rooming with a woman of such good taste,” Ava says before Liz can speak, winking at the brunette and earning a full-bodied laugh from Darcy.

Liz snorts and walks past Darcy to set her loot on the counter. Despite both being bisexual and the ridiculous implications people like to make about the indiscriminate proclivities of that particular orientation, her and Darcy had never been attracted to each other, instead forming an instant ‘BFF Bond’ as Darcy calls it. But telekinesis is far from her only alien gifted ability, and even without the others she’s pretty sure she’d be able to feel the chemistry humming between the two girls now going through Ava’s bags of food while flirting a mile a minute.

This is going to be entertaining, even if it never progresses past dirty puns.

Jane jolts back to reality after Liz wraps her hands around an iced latte and smiles distractedly at her before frowning in the direction of the inappropriate giggling behind her that Liz is pointedly ignoring. “I brought a friend home,” she tells Jane, then shrugs. “I think Darcy’s decided to keep her.”

“Damn straight,” Darcy says with a wide grin as she slings her arm around Liz’s shoulders. “I already told her she could sleep in the third bedroom and if SHIELD complains then we will go to that nudist colony and rock their stuffy socks off.”

“Nice to meet you, Liz’s friend,” Jane says amiably, after a long drink of coffee, as Ava saunters up to Liz’s other side, “Welcome to the mad house – don’t touch the equipment.”

Ava chuckles. “I swear on my own grave that I won’t.”

“You do have one, don’t you,” Liz muses, cocking her head to the side as she examines her friend. “Are there like, royal catacombs or something on Antar? Or do you think Kivar destroyed them?” It hurts, a little, to discuss anything alien related so casually, and she’s sure it hurts Ava too. But it’s also catharsis, and Ava hasn’t had anyone to talk to in years, maybe longer, given her shitty family dynamics in this life.

Besides, sometimes gallows humor is the only thing that keeps you sane.

Ava shrugs. “Antarians don’t actually inter remains, and I’m sure ours were destroyed after the cloning to prevent any further tampering, but there’s probably a memorial somewhere on the palace grounds. Kivar was the type of person to find that amusing,” she says, scrunching up her nose in distaste.

“Okay, hang on, hold your horses. You are hilarious, hot, and an alien? Why aren’t we naked yet?” Darcy asks, leaning around Liz with wide eyes and a teasing smirk.

Liz clears her throat and shoves Darcy away, gently. “Because I want to eat lunch, Jane wants to go back to work and needs to eat first, and the two of you are not having sex in the kitchen. Cleaning up after your leftovers is bad enough.”

“I’ve apologized for the moldy mac and cheese six times already!” Darcy exclaims with a pout that’s only half-pretense and Liz rolls her eyes as she points at the sink.

“You need to start putting food in the trash, not the sink, or I’m going to trade you cooking for cleaning and then we’ll all suffer.”

“No,” Jane cuts in, waving her hands forcefully and nearly splashing them all with latte. “No trading; I am never eating your cooking again and Darcy always forgot to wash both sides of the plates.”

Liz and Darcy exchange shameful grins and nod while Ava giggles. “You’re that bad, Cornball? Didn’t you grow up in a diner?”

Liz nods again as she walks around the counter to sit on the stool next to Jane, claiming her sandwich, one of the pastries lined with chocolate, and the largest, most caffeinated beverage the cafe had offered. “If it doesn’t involve heat, I can do it. Sandwiches and salads. And toast!” She shakes her head with a rueful grin. “But the moment a microwave or an oven is involved, you shouldn’t involve me. And I think it’s a defense mechanism, so I never had to cook at the Crashdown.” She shudders. “I hated the kitchen: too hot and too loud and I always managed to get a grease burn if I was in there for more than a few minutes.”

“I still think it’s hilarious that you grew up working in the Crashdown Café, in Roswell, and then actually met aliens,” Darcy says around a bite of giant pickle, her eyes twinkling. She and Ava seem to have decided to remain on the other side of the counter and lean against it (and each other) while eating.

“I’m glad the sci-fi soap opera that is my life amuses you,” Liz retorts before taking a large bite of her sandwich to hold off any other conversation and settles in to watch Ava and Darcy flirt instead.

She’s right. It is entertaining, and filled with dirty puns (among other groan worthy jokes and the occasional sweet moment she knows both would deny with their last breath) and when Thursday rolls around, Ava and Darcy are making out on the couch while Jane and Liz enjoy hot cocoa floats and morosely watch a documentary on Norse Mythology in companionable loneliness.

On Friday Liz manages to drag Ava away long enough for that conversation in the park. “What have you seen?” she asks as they meander down one of the paths surrounding the University Museum in what is really more a chunk of forest than a park.

“You. And SHIELD. And others, not like us, but different,” Ava says promptly, her blue eyes lost in a familiar haze. “SHIELD isn’t, they’re not bad. They might even be good. But they answer to someone or something, and they are not trustworthy,” she finally adds, her gaze coming into focus once again as it meets Liz’s with a silent warning. “So be careful. Because I know you, and I know you’re going to go save the world, or whatever, but I will be very pissed if I have to come rescue you from some government facility, okay?”

Liz nods with an affectionate grin and pulls Ava in for a hug. “Don’t worry, punk, you’re stuck with me now. You’ve officially been adopted into the family, and our family is way more awesome than anything some shadowy agency can come up with.”

“Just don’t tell them that,” Ava says as they let go of each other, her eyes suspiciously shiny. “I don’t want to work for them.”

Liz shakes her head, lips firming into a more serious expression. “That was part of the deal, actually, I would agree to consider their job offer whenever they make it, as long as they left Kyle and Maria out of it. When I do accept, I’ll make sure that includes you too.”

Ava hugs her again, but doesn’t say anything, and Liz turns them down another path that will lead back to the museum. “So, you and Darcy,” she says after few quiet minutes, entirely without subtlety.

Ava actually blushes a little and Liz laughs. “Are none of your business,” the blonde says primly, then ruins it with a lascivious leer. “All you need to know is that you should wear headphones at night.”

“And at lunch, and at the lab when you two wander off to ‘find supplies’,” Liz says dryly. “You’re just lucky that Jane wouldn’t so much as notice a hurricane in the lab unless it had Thor in it, or she’d have yelled at you for risking her equipment when you made out under the desk.”

Ava sticks her tongue out at her and then sobers. “I, I like her, but...”

She trails off and Liz bumps their hips together. “Is it the girl thing?”

“No.” Ava shakes her head, and then narrows her eyes at Liz. “You can never tell anyone this, but back on Antar I had a crush on Vilandra long before I fell in love with Zan.”

Liz laughs softly and offers her pinky for a promise they both know is rather pointless as there’s no one Liz could tell even if she wanted to. She also very carefully doesn’t consider how painful that revelation makes the reality of Ava’s family in this life and resolves to surprise the blonde with a few more sneak hugs.

Ava links their pinkies for a shake and then continues speaking. “But there hasn’t been anyone since Zan. No one I actually cared about, and Darcy is as tied to Jane and SHIELD as you are.”

“You don’t have to be involved with SHIELD to stay with us, no matter where we end up. I can make that a condition of my employment too,” Liz tells her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

“I’m sure you would, and yes, I might take you up on that. I’m just not sure I’m ready for the commitment thing, or the staying in one place thing,” Ava says with a sigh, leaning into Liz as they turn onto the sidewalk that leads back to the lab.

“I think you are ready, you’re just understandably terrified of the idea,” Liz says pointedly but without bite, leaving unspoken the many reasons Ava has to fear settling down with a group of people she cares about.

“I thought you were a biology major, not a psychologist,” Ava teases, her half-smile showing that she doesn’t disagree with Liz’s diagnosis.

Liz laughs. “No psychoanalyzing here, just good guesses based on similar experiences.” She squeezes Ava’s shoulders. “It will work out though, even if you and Darcy don’t; you’ll always have me, and Kyle and Maria once they meet you again. SHIELD and superheroes and invasions, none of that matters at the end of the day – I would leave all of it behind for you guys if I needed to.”

Ava blinks away hints of moisture. “Good, that’s settled. Now, I think we should drag Jane out tonight and mess with your tag-alongs some more.”

Liz grins and nods her agreement. Jane needs a break and Ava has taken to her and Darcy’s game with manic enthusiasm. Tonight will be good for all of them.

The next few weeks settle into a comfortable routine of working in the lab, continuing to explore Tromsø (now frequently with Ava), stumbling on Ava and Darcy trying to eat each other’s faces, and getting ready for her final semester.

Preparations that end up meaning nothing when Coulson shows up one morning, before Liz has even finished her first cup of coffee, and says, “We need you. Now.”

Ava appears at the edge of the hallway, a blanket wrapped around her, and looks at Liz with a steady gaze that she knows means Ava will make him go away if Liz wants her too. Liz shakes her head and sets her mug down on the counter, glad that she’s already showered and dressed for the day.

“Let’s go.”

Coulson nods, the tiniest of smiles flicking across his face, and leads her out the door. Liz shoots one last glance at Ava, silently asking her to take care of Darcy and Jane, and follows, steeling herself for whatever it is to come.

No more hiding, probably some lying, and definitely more alien madness.

It’s time to save the world, again.

A/N2: The chapter title is from the song Glitter in the Air by Pink.

Whimsicality's Fics

There was nothing more she wanted to do than crawl back into bed, wrap herself in Michael, and spend the day trading kisses and learning what made him sigh, what made his breath catch, what made him purr in the back of his throat. - Liz in Hunted by Ashita

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter 3 ~ 6/

Post by Whimsicality » Sat Jul 06, 2013 3:13 pm

booktv-girl2310: Thank you! And yeah, I couldn't resist bringing Ava in, she's one of my favorites. She's not going to play as big a role as Liz, but she is definitely going to be a part of this story and the world I'm meshing.
Yasmania: Thanks! Also you totally read my mind :lol: as there is a lot of Liz/Tony snarking in this story (some in this chapter, and lots in the chapters to come.)
alexceasar: Thank you! I hope you enjoy the new chapter! (And maybe it will inspire you because I thoroughly enjoy and miss your stories :wink:)

A/N: Okay, so the next two chapters (really one chapter split into two parts because it got so freaking long) are centered around Avengers. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll be fine, because this covers a heck of a lot more detail than the Thor chapter did (although again, please watch it, because seriously, it’s the best and it is also available on Netflix and Amazon.) Also, I do not own a good chunk of the dialogue in this chapter (and on that note I am never doing a direct insertion XO ever again because writing this chapter was ridiculous and it took me ten hours to watch a two hour movie just to get it right.) So for those of you who have seen the movie, you will recognize a lot (and will know more about what happens off screen). I do make a few significant changes to canon, as the chapter header should reveal, but a lot of it is just fitting Liz into the movie so I apologize for it seeming somewhat like an altered version of the script. (Oh, and you should all bask in awe of the amazing chapter title I found.)

Part One of:
red letter day and i’m in a blue mood
(In which the world does not end and Phil Coulson does not die.)
Liz carefully does not look at the handsome blond man sitting across from her reading a holographic(!) file and instead takes in the plane they’re riding in, full of technology that is far beyond anything the public is aware of, making her fingers itch with the desire to explore the computer interface Coulson’s been attached to for most of the flight.

Coulson finally turns to face them after being told they are forty minutes from wherever they’re going, information no one has seen fit to give her, and the blond man speaks, “So this Dr. Banner was trying to replicate the serum they used on me?”

Liz’s attention suddenly sharpens as she looks at the man, who’d politely introduced himself as Steve when they picked him up in New York, and whom she’d recognized vaguely as a face from some of her dreams. She knows that name. Dr. Banner was one of her heroes, a scientist with so many degrees she’d need both hands to count them, and then he dropped off the face of the Earth several years ago and hasn’t published a paper since.

“A lot of people were. You were the world’s first superhero,” Coulson says in answer to Steve’s question and Liz hides her instinctive jolt of surprise. Just who is this Steve? And what serum?

Screw saving the world, she suddenly just wants access to SHIELD’s files. Do they need scientists? She’d rather be a scientist than a hero any day.

“Banner thought gamma radiation might hold the key to unlocking Erskine’s original formula,” Coulson continues.

“Didn’t really go his way, did it?” Steve says quietly and the side of Coulson’s mouth curves into that barely detectable smirk, intensifying Liz’s curiosity.

“Not so much. When he’s not that thing though, the guy’s like a Stephen Hawking.”

Liz snorts, drawing the attention of the two men, Steve looking vaguely confused. “There’s an understatement, and Banner didn’t just stick with physics. Do we get to meet him?” she asks, doing her best to keep her tone level instead of the high-pitched whine it becomes when she’s excited.

“Yes,” Coulson tells her, and then turns back to Steve. “Hawking’s a really smart guy, as is Banner.”

The confusion on Steve’s face clears slightly and Liz wonders again who he is that he’s never heard of Hawking, who beyond being a genius, is also a mainstay of pop culture. Not to mention the superhero comment she’s still mulling over. Maybe she should have asked to take a look at that file.

Coulson’s voice draws her attention again and she’s surprised and amused to see a genuine smile on his face, the most distinct expression she’s ever seen him have.

“I gotta say. It’s an honor to meet you officially. I’ve sort of met you. I mean, I watched you while you were sleeping. I mean, I was present while you were unconscious from the ice. You know, it’s really just a huge honor to have you on board this,” Phil says, with a few awkward pauses and an equally awkward expression on Steve’s face as he stands and moves to the front of the plane, clearly uncomfortable with the praise inherent in Phil’s words while Liz holds back both laughter and dozens of questions.

“I hope I’m the man for the job,” Steve says quietly, staring out over the ocean.

“Oh, you are. Absolutely,” Phil says with conviction, and then turns to look at Liz as if suddenly remembering her presence. “You too, Ms. Parker, I mean, I’m sure you’ll both be a great help in this situation.”

Liz opens her mouth to ask what situation but Phil has already turned back to Steve, who’s now watching her with curiosity in his ridiculously blue eyes. “We made some modifications to the uniform. I had a little design input.”

“The uniform?” Steve asks, his gaze moving from her back to Coulson, “Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old-fashioned?”

Liz’s jaw drops. No. No way. She’s got to be misreading things. There is absolutely no possible way that Captain America, whose comics Alex collected religiously, is standing in front of her. The ice comment could mean anything, and superhero is a relative term. Yeah.

“With everything that’s happening, and the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned,” Coulson says, interrupting her mental spiral, and rest of the plane ride is spent in silence.

Liz stares down at her hands, refusing to stare at Steve who clearly feels awkward enough about whatever’s going on, and reminds herself to breathe. There’s an invasion coming. She doesn’t know exactly when, or if it’s what she was called in for, but the fragments and pieces she’s seen in dreams convinces her that threat is urgent, and that is more important than fangirling over a potential superhero, or a genius scientist.

She’s not even sure what she has to offer in such a company, her powers didn’t exactly do much to the alien robot in New Mexico, but she has to try.

Half an hour later, the plane is setting down on the deck of the largest ship she’s ever seen (and she’s not sure ship is the right word) and she’s following Coulson and Steve off the plane where a beautiful redhead in a black leather jacket is waiting for them.

“Agent Romanov, Captain Rogers and Liz Parker,” Coulson says and Liz summons a smile that isn’t returned as she recognizes another face she’s never actually seen before.

“Hi,” the woman says with a curt nod at the two of them before turning her attention to Coulson. “They need you on the bridge. They’re starting the face-trace.”

“See you there,” Coulson says and strides away without another word, leaving Liz and Steve with Agent Romanov, Liz feeling more clueless by the second.

“It was quite the buzz around here, finding you in the ice,” the Agent says as she turns and starts to walk across the deck, clearly expecting them to follow. “I thought Coulson was going to swoon,” she adds with a smirk that makes Liz lips twitch as she remembers Coulson’s bout of awkward on the plane.

Steve is smiling again, a wry expression, and the Agent catches his gaze. “Did he ask you to sign his Captain America trading cards yet?”

“Fuck,” Liz says involuntarily, and then flushes as they both turn to look at her. “Sorry, just, processing. Please ignore me and I will continue processing in silence.”

Agent Romanov is now smirking at her and Steve’s smile is a looking a little bashful. Liz mimes zipping her lips and pointedly turns her gaze back in the direction they were walking. Steve takes her cue and turns as well, calling out to another vaguely familiar man in a brown suit and tousled dark curls. “Dr. Banner!”

The man approaches them with a faint smile and accepts Steve’s outstretched hand for a firm shake as Liz silently dies inside. Forget Captain America, the man standing in front of her is brilliant and she wants nothing more than to pick his brain for days.

“Oh yeah, hi. They told me you would be coming,” Dr. Banner says in a dry voice as he looks Steve up and down.

“Word is you can find the cube,” Steve says, and Liz once again wonders why she seems to be the only one who did not receive a briefing about anything that’s going on. She hopes it’s not because she’s younger than everyone else, although she’s only a couple years behind Steve’s apparent age (she doesn’t even want to consider his actual age), and hopes it’s not a sign of things to come. This will not go well if they try to keep her out of the loop.

“Is that the only word on me?” Dr. Banner asks with an overly casual glance around and Liz clears her throat before Steve can speak again.

“Well, I have heard no word on you, but your published work is fascinating,” she says with a bright smile, holding out her own hand and carefully reigning in her abilities so she won’t get any flashes when they touch. “I have a, ah, particular interest in your research on how outside influences can affect genetic structure.”

He shakes her hand and smiles faintly. “And you are?”

“Liz Parker, college student and, you know, I don’t know what else. They haven’t told me exactly, other than they needed my help,” she answers, enjoying the warmth of his palm before he pulls away and ignoring the hint of green at the edges of her vision as her powers try to tell her things about him she’s sure he doesn’t want her to know.

He looks like he wants to ask why they’d need her help, and she sees similar curiosity on Steve’s face, but he doesn’t ask, instead turning back to Steve. “Must be strange for you, all of this.”

“Well, this is actually kind of familiar,” Steve says with a smile before Agent Romanov interrupts them.

“Gentleman, Ms. Parker, you might want to step inside in a minute. It’s going to get a little hard to breathe.”

Liz grins. She knew this wasn’t just a ship and she can’t wait to see what it can do. Mechanical noises can be heard as Steve and Dr. Banner wonder out loud what it might actually be and the water around them starts to churn.

Moments later, the entire ship lifts into the air and Liz resists the urge to lean over the side, instead turning to join the others in following Agent Romanov inside. The science fiction part of the soap opera of her life is starting to become really fucking awesome and that fact is more than overcoming her nerves about why she’s here.

The bridge (or deck or whatever it’s supposed to be called, her inner nerd settled on bridge) they’re escorted onto is high-tech and swarming with men and women in skin tight uniforms of a material she doesn’t recognize. A tall man in black leather and an eyepatch is standing in the center, clearly in charge, and Liz suspects he is the mysterious Nick Fury who was mentioned months ago during her briefing in New Mexico.

He joins them a moment later and Steve silently hands him a ten dollar bill, adding another question to the list Liz has been steadily compiling ever since Coulson picked her up in Tromsø.

Fury approaches Dr. Banner first, holding out his hand. “Doctor. Thank you for coming.”

Banner eyes it consideringly for a moment before accepting the handshake. “Thanks for asking nicely. So, how long am I staying?” he asks, undercurrents to his voice that Liz can’t read as she pretends to still be watching the crew in fascination.

“Once we get our hands on the Tesseract, you’re in the wind,” Fury says, and Liz bites her lips, not sure if she wants to know more about this Tesseract, or why Banner is apparently determined to remain non-existent as far as the world is concerned.

“Where are you with that?” Dr. Banner asks and Fury points to Coulson, who blends in perfectly with the organized chaos around them.

“We’re sweeping every wirelessly accessible camera on the planet. Cell phones, laptops, if it’s connected to a satellite, it’s eyes and ears for us” he says, causing Liz’s hands to clench in something between awe and anger. How long have they had that ability, and what all do they use it for?

“That’s still not gonna find them in time,” Agent Romanov says, crouched next to a computer screen with a man’s face on it, and Banner seems to agree.

“You have to narrow your field. How many spectrometers do you have access to?” he asks.

“How many are there?” Fury responds and Liz recognizes the light of the intellectual determination that takes over Banner’s gaze.

“Call every lab you know,” he says as he takes off his suit jacket, “Tell them to put the spectrometers on the roof and calibrate them for gamma rays. I’ll rough out a tracking algorithm, basic cluster recognition. At least we could rule out a few places. Do you have somewhere for me to work?”

Fury nods. “Agent Romanov? Could you show Dr. Banner and Ms. Parker to his laboratory, please?”

Banner shoots her a glance and Liz smiles. “Physics and Molecular Bio major,” she murmurs to him quietly. “I’m no you, but I can help with the grunt work.”

He nods, his eyes crinkling slightly, and she loses a tension she didn’t even know she had at the realization that maybe she can do something more than fight a hostile alien force.

“You’re gonna love it, Doc,” Agent Romanov says as she strides past them. “We’ve got all the toys.”

Liz follows along at their heels, practically vibrating with excitement. She gets to do science, with Dr. Bruce Banner! Her day has just gotten so much better, potentially world-ending crisis or not. And maybe now she’ll finally get some answers about what the hell is going on.

Agent Romanov leaves them to their work, although a watchful presence is maintained, and Liz silently follows Dr. Banner’s directions for a while, falling into the rhythm of lab assistant with ease. He’s less manic than Jane, but no less focused, and his few words have a bite of wry humor that make her chuckle.

Once he has the bare bones of a program up and running, he pauses and looks at her with the same penetrating gaze he’s been giving his equations. “So, why are you here, Ms. Parker?”

“Please call me Liz,” she says with a faint smile. “And I’ll answer your questions if you promise to answer some of mine, Dr. Banner.”

The lines around his eyes deepen momentarily and she shakes her head. “Nothing personal, I promise, and you can always choose not to answer.” He finally nods and her smile widens slightly as she holds up her hand and releases some of her control, allowing him to see the green electricity flickering under her skin. “I have a few unique abilities that SHIELD seems to think might be useful for whatever crisis we’re facing.”

His eyes are intent on her hand and he looks up at her with a faint smile and a raised eyebrow. “May I?”

She nods and he gently cradles her hand between his, tracing the lines of light with his finger and sending a pleasant tingle of warmth all the way through her. “Fascinating.”

He doesn’t ask how she got her abilities, or what others she possesses, and after a moment lets go of her hand and turns back to the computer screens. “Ask away, Liz. And please call me Bruce.”

“Why are we here and what is the Tesseract?” she asks promptly, resuming her position of scanning the code for errors after he waves her to the screen next to him.

“The Tesseract is an energy source, an alien energy source,” he says and Liz freezes momentarily before resuming her work, aware that he noticed and not particularly caring. She never did find out what the granilith was, beyond a space ship and a potential time machine, but something powered the pods for fifty years, and the granilith is as good a guess as any. And apparently, Kivar was willing to start a war over its existence, so she suddenly has a better idea of why, exactly, that invasion she’s seen might be coming.

“Someone has stolen it, someone with dangerous plans. They didn’t tell me who, and I’m not sure they know what those plans are,” he looks at her for a moment with something akin to bitter amusement in his brown eyes. “I’m here to find the Tesseract. As for the Captain, and maybe you, I’m guessing the goal is to stop those plans and get the Tesseract back.”

Liz nods and returns to working in silence, mulling that over and reining in the rest of her curiosity, about Dr. Banner, and about everything else. She has more than enough to think about, and what they’re doing has a new urgency to it.

Hours pass as they work, speaking occasionally, and moving around each other as if they’ve been researching together for years. Aside from the stress of the situation, it is thrilling, and she is eagerly learning from everything Bruce does and says.

A chill passes over her suddenly and she looks up to see a smirking man (she knows instantly that he’s not human and his clothing reminds her of Thor and Sif, sending another chill down her spine) being led down the hall by a large, very armed, escort. The man locks gazes with Bruce, grinning with something less than sanity, and Liz frowns as Bruce pinches the top of his nose as if in pain.

“Are you okay, Bruce?” she asks carefully, a sudden memory of Kyle’s tapping fingers intruding on her thoughts as Bruce lowers his hand and manages a smile.

“Mmm, yes, just a bit of a headache.”

Before she can question that assertion, can figure out how to broach the subject of mental tampering, Agent Romanov has reappeared and leads them to a conference room, murmuring something to Bruce as they walk that Liz doesn’t hear, too busy trying and failing to see if she can detect anyone messing with their thoughts. Steve is there when they arrive, and Thor, who looks as surprised to see her as she does him, then pleased, as he clasps his large hands around her arms and squeezes just hard enough to not bruise.

“Liz Parker! I am happy to see you again. Is Jane here?” he asks, looking around as if Jane might be behind her.

She shakes her head and smiles up, way up, at him. “Sorry big guy, she’s off trying to figure out to build a bridge to you. When did you get back?” she asks, cocking her head to the side and ignoring the curious glances they’re receiving from Bruce and Steve.

Thor sobers, his face settling into grim lines that remind her of the fact that beneath the warm and friendly exterior lies an ancient warrior. He turns to look at a screen where Agent Romanov has pulled up video showing the man they saw in the hallway, being placed in some kind of glass cage by Fury.

“My brother, Loki, has committed further harm against the people of Earth. I am here to stop him.”

Liz reaches out and squeezes his hand, then joins the others in silently watching the video feed. Threats are exchanged and then Loki is turning to look directly at the camera, his words a pointed poison that seem to be directed at Bruce, although Liz still doesn’t understand the references made. Thor doesn’t seem to either, but the others do, and she wonders how a serum, gamma radiation, and the secrets in Bruce’s eyes, add up to a mindless beast.

Loki is smug and Fury is stoic and Liz feels overwhelmed. This is big. Bigger than car chases and dead FBI agents and an army of aliens making her town disappear. It might even be bigger than time travel and an alien parasite that could have ended everything. She looks around the room, at the people gathered here, and out through the glass at the technological marvel they’re all standing in, and breathes. Somehow she survived and averted all those other crises, and they had a lot less help and support back then.

The world will survive this one too.

She refuses to believe anything less.

“He really grows on you, doesn’t he?” Bruce asks with a wry grin that makes Liz smile despite herself when she focuses on the present again.

“Loki’s gonna drag this out. So, Thor, what’s his play?” Steve asks, looking up at the blond alien whose eyes are filled with endless grief and iron resolve.

“He has an army called the Chitauri. They’re not of Asgard, nor any world known. He means to lead them against your people. They will win him the Earth, in return, I suspect, for the Tesseract,” Thor says solemnly, and Liz sees a portal in the sky and a vast army waiting to fall through.

Visions of the future sound nice in theory, but in practice they tend to show you things you can’t stop, and fragmented images that don’t make sense until it’s far too late for the warning they were meant to give.

“An army from outer space,” Steve states, voice steady despite the clear desire to disbelieve every word.

“So he’s building another portal,” Bruce interjects before anyone else can comment, taking off his glasses in a gesture that has already become familiar. “That’s what he needs Erik Selvig for.”

“Selvig?” Thor asks, and Liz echoes him, stepping forward.

“What does Erik have to do with this?”

“He’s an astrophysicist,” Bruce replies, looking between them, and Liz shakes her head.

“He’s a friend,” Thor says firmly, concern in every word, and Agent Romanov adds herself to the conversation.

“Loki has him under some kind of spell, along with one of ours.” Her voice is carefully controlled and Liz feels anger roiling in her gut as once again she sees Kyle in her mind, struck down with the memory of carrying a dead friend.

“What kind of spell? I have... experience, with alien mind control,” Liz says through gritted teeth as she sends a silent apology to Ava. “I might know someone who can help remove it.”

Agent Romanov’s gaze snaps to hers and a faint hint of hope appears in her eyes before quickly disappearing into icy calm. “When we find them, we’ll need to know more about this someone.”

Liz nods and then Steve is speaking again. “I want to know why Loki let us take him. He’s not leading an army from here.”

“I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki,” Bruce disagrees, still playing with his glasses. “That guy’s brain is bag full of cats. You could smell crazy on him.”

It is hard, for a moment, to resist the urge to laugh, but Thor’s voice dispels that desire, replacing it with far more complicated emotions. “Have care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.”

“He killed eighty people in two days,” Natasha says with weary coldness and Thor shifts for a moment.

“He’s adopted.”

“I think it’s about the mechanics,” Bruce says into the following silence. “Iridium. What do they need iridium for?”

“It’s a stabilizing agent,” a new voice interrupts, and Liz turns to see Tony fucking Stark striding into the room at Phil Coulson’s side.

She takes another steadying breath as he has a micro-conversation with Coulson. She used to date a reincarnated alien king; she refuses to be intimidated by Tony Stark, even if he is a billionaire superhero. Tony Stark, genius scientist and inventor on the other hand, well, that’s someone a lot more awe inspiring, and a lot more useful at the moment and his next words prove that point.

“It means the portal won’t collapse on itself like it did at SHIELD.”

His next words after that prove that his asshole reputation is equally well deserved. “No hard feelings, Point Break. You’ve got a mean swing,” he says as he walks by Thor and pats him on the arm. Liz watches the desire to crush him like a bug flicker through Thor’s eyes and doesn’t hold back her smile.

Her life is officially insane, but all these personalities in one room is going to be hilarious and she wishes Darcy was here to see it and snark at it.

“Also, it means the portal can open as wide and stay open as long as Loki wants,” Tony continues, knowledge and smart-assery falling from his lips in equal measure as he proceeds to deviate from the topic again and mock the crew of the ship before returning to what’s important just as quickly.

“The rest of the raw materials Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. The only major component he still needs is a power source of high-energy density. Something to kick-start the Cube.”

“When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?” Fury’s second, a woman whose name Liz hasn’t caught, asks.

“Last night,” Stark replies with a confident smirk and Liz snorts quietly to herself. At least his genius more than matches his ego. With any luck she’ll get to watch him and Bruce work together, and then her brain might explode from so much scientific knowledge and brilliance in one place.

It will so be worth it.

“The packet, Selvig’s notes, the extraction theory papers. Am I the only one who did the reading?” he asks with an incredulous arm wave.

Liz laughs, drawing his attention. “Sorry, it’s just, they still haven’t given me anything to read. Care to share yours?”

“Of course,” Tony says with a smirk, and opens his mouth again, probably to ask just who the hell she is, when he’s interrupted by Steve, who looks less than pleased with Stark’s brash attitude.

“Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?”

Bruce answers him first. “He would have to heat the Cube to 120-million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier.”

“Unless Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect,” Tony interjects.

“Well if he could do that, he could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet,” Bruce responds and Liz can practically see the waves of intellectual sizing up passing between the two.

“Finally, someone who speaks English,” Tony says with a grin, offering Bruce his hand while Liz represses a fangirl squee and Steve looks utterly lost.

“Is that what just happened?”

“It’s good to meet you, Dr. Banner,” Tony is saying as Liz edges closer to the scientists, determined to keep them in hearing range for whatever follows. “Your work on antielectron collisions is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage-monster.”

Liz stops moving and stares, more pieces of the puzzle slotting into place as she takes in Bruce’s fading smile, and the light in Tony’s eyes that’s somewhere between teasing and testing.

“Thanks,” Bruce says quietly, and then Fury is back and taking charge of the room, directing his first words at Stark.

“Dr. Banner is only here to track the cube. I was hoping you might join in.”

“I would start with that stick of his,” Steve says. “It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a HYDRA weapon.”

“I don’t know about that,” Fury replies, “But it is powered by the Cube. And I would like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys.”

Liz winces, anger rising up her throat as she remembers Erik’s gruffly affectionate goodbye when he left to work with SHIELD. She hopes they can figure it out without Ava, but knows she’ll call if she has to. She won’t ever leave someone under someone else’s thrall, no matter what the cost.

“Monkeys?” Thor asks. “I do not understand.”

“I do,” Steve says, sounding oddly happy for the subject matter. “I understood that reference.”

Everyone ignores him and Liz shoots him a small smile before turning her attention back to Bruce and Tony. “Shall we play, Doctor?” Stark is asking and Bruce waves his arm with a nod.

“This way sir.”

Liz follows before anyone can tell her to stop, and listens to them banter with a grin on her face. Getting to work with (or well, lab monkey for) Bruce Banner and Tony Stark? She’s suddenly feeling a lot more grateful for the alien powers she never wanted.

Her grin fades as they walk into the lab and she clears her throat, interrupting their multi-layered conversation. “Sorry, it’s just, I think I need to know about this green rage monster thing, and anything else of significance they neglected to tell me,” she says into the silence as they both stare at her curiously. “I wasn’t going to ask, but apparently everyone else knows, and given the situation, I have a feeling it’s important.”

“They really didn’t you give you a packet, did they? I was wondering who you were and why you weren’t in it,” Tony says brightly as Bruce remains silent, looking away from her to stare at the glowing blue staff that has appeared since they left.

“Nope,” she says with a tight smile. “Apparently alien powers are not enough to warrant giving the intern any information other than ‘We need you’.”

“Alien powers?” Tony asks at the same time that Bruce raises his head.

“Were you Erik Selvig’s intern?”

Liz nods, and then shakes her head. “I was, but SHIELD stole him, so now I only work for Dr. Foster,” she clenches and unclenches her hands again and takes a deep breath. “And I’m really kind of pissed that they didn’t even tell me he was stolen by someone else, so I would appreciate any information the two of you can give me.”

They both nod after a moment, still sizing her up, and Tony speaks first. “Selvig was taken a few days ago, by Loki, when he appeared in the middle of a SHIELD facility and used that,” he points to the staff Bruce is examining, “to somehow take control of his mind, along with another agent, and make them loyal to him.”

“Since then, Loki and said agent have stolen some iridium, and Loki allowed himself to be captured for reasons we don’t yet know,” Bruce adds with a wan smile.

“Right,” Tony says, “Although it could just be that you know, I’m entirely too awesome for him.”

Bruce shoots him a wry glance and Liz smiles slightly before staring at Tony expectantly.

“So, other than that pertinent info, and what you’ve already picked up about the Tesseract, most of the packet involved information about all of us, well excluding you for some reason, and the Avengers Initiative.”

Liz frowns, wondering why she seems to be excluded from a lot of things. Were they uncertain she would come? Or is there something more to it? “Avengers Initiative?” she asks after a pause.

“Aka the team of unbalanced superheroes,” Tony says with a grin. “There’s me, no explanation needed, Captain Pectoral, Blondie, Green Rage Monster over here, the worst PA ever who also happens to be an assassin, the agent Loki jacked, and, well, you apparently. Do you have a code name?”

Liz blinks and chuckles at the lineup (mostly because she’s trying to fight off hysteria) and then shakes her head. “Darcy calls me the Human Taser, but that is not being used in any kind of official capacity,” she says with a warning glare at Tony who’s grinning widely. “Just call me Liz.”

“And just call me Bruce, please,” Bruce interjects with a mild glance at Tony before looking at her again. “I was involved in an experiment. Things went wrong and I ended up with a rather destructive alter ego,” his lips twitch into a something that can’t really be called a smile. “If you see green on my skin, run.”

Liz nods slowly and then takes a deep breath. “Well, we have work to do, so let’s get to it.”

They need no encouragement from her and soon they are alternating between Bruce’s algorithm and studying the staff, all with verbal exchanges so lightning fast she’s deeply glad that alien energy has enhanced her already near-eidetic memory. In addition to assisting where she can, mostly she just watches Bruce and Tony go, listening and learning, because while she’s been called a genius, she doesn’t know enough to keep up with them. Yet.

“You know, you should come by Stark Tower sometime,” Tony says a while later, looking at Bruce but pointing a finger at her as well. “Top ten floors, all R&D. You’d love it. It’s Candy Land.”

“Thanks, but the last time I was in New York, I kind of broke Harlem,” Bruce says with self-deprecating wit and Liz blinks, wondering what exactly this green rage monster they keep referring to is capable of.

“Well, I promise a stress-free environment. No tension, no surprises,” Tony says in a light tone, before zapping Bruce in the back with some sort of device.

Liz laughs at Bruce’s exclamation of surprised pain only because she can see the amusement on his face, and the carefully hidden enjoyment of someone not treating him like a monster about to explode.

Steve doesn’t seem to see it that way, and strides into the lab with a commanding scowl. “Hey! Are you nuts?”

Tony shrugs with studied lack of concern. “Jury’s out,” then turns his attention back to Bruce. “You really have got a lid on it, haven’t you. What’s your secret? Mellow jazz, bongo drums, huge bag of weed?”

Liz snorts, handing Bruce a tiny portable screen with readouts from the device he’s using to scan the staff. “If it’s the latter, you should really share. There are some people on this boat that could use relaxing.”

Tony grins at her but Steve is still frowning. “Is everything a joke to you?”

“Funny things are,” Tony says, pointing at Steve with his zapping rod as Liz and Bruce exchange amused smiles over the data pad.

“Threatening the safety of everyone on this ship isn’t funny,” Steve states quietly, then shoots a glance at Bruce. “No offense, Doc.”

“It’s all right, I wouldn’t have come aboard if I couldn’t handle pointy things,” Bruce replies calmly, humor underlying his voice as he glances at Tony.

Liz grins as Tony chuckles and points at Bruce. “You’re tip-toeing, big man. You need to strut.”

“And you need to focus on the problem, Mr. Stark,” Steve interrupts again. He practically radiates a commanding aura and somehow manages to not look ridiculous in a uniform that Liz doesn’t think anyone else could pull off.

She remembers feeling like her life was unbelievably strange when Thor was cooking them breakfast and snorts softly to herself. She had no idea.

“Do you think I’m not?” Tony asks, a hint of temper finally appearing in his voice. “Why did Fury call us in? Why now? Why not before? What isn’t he telling us? I can’t do the equation unless I have all the variables.”

“Damn good questions,” Liz says, her lips curving downward. “Can we add one about why I seem to be the invisible girl of this operation?”

Tony smirks at her. “Of course, Ms. Taser.”

Steve looks thoughtful instead of frustrated. “You think Fury’s hiding something?”

“He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets. Even the intern knows that,” Tony says, flicking her another grin as she rolls her eyes. “It’s bugging him too, isn’t it,” he adds after popping something in his mouth, gesturing at Bruce who frowns and waves his hand.

“Uh... I just want to finish my work here and-”

“Doctor,” Steve says, before Bruce can finish his sentence, and Bruce pauses, looking around aimlessly for a moment before removing his glasses and looking up.

“A warm light for all mankind. Loki’s jab at Fury about the Cube.”

“I heard it,” Steve says.

“Well, I think that was meant for you,” Bruce continues, pointing at Tony. “Even if Barton didn’t tell Loki about the tower, it was still all over the news.”

“The Stark Tower?” Steve says incredulously, “That big, ugly,” Tony looks at him and he shifts gears, “Building in New York?”

“It’s powered by an arc reactor,” Bruce says as Steve and Tony stare at each other. “A self-sustaining energy source. That building will run itself for, what, a year?”

“It’s just the prototype,” Tony says, before looking back at Steve, cockiness fading back into his tone. “I’m kind of the only name in clean energy right now. That’s what he’s getting at.”

“So, why didn’t SHIELD bring him in on the Tesseract project? What are they doing in the energy business in the first place?” Bruce asks and Liz frowns. More good questions.

Ava said, and her dreams seemed to agree, that SHIELD weren’t the bad guys, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to agree with everything they do. And it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to know exactly what she’s getting into.

“I should probably look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of SHIELD’s secure files,” Tony says in a nonchalant tone as he walks past her and Bruce, offering them snacks along the way which they both accept, and stares at another tiny screen.

“I’m sorry, did you say-” Steve gets out before Tony interrupts him

“Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours I’ll know every dirty secret SHIELD has ever tried to hide.”

Bruce and Liz exchange a glance and then Liz raises an eyebrow at Tony. “Can you get us copies of everything they have on us?” she asks, gesturing between her and Bruce, and then, after a moment’s consideration, waving a hand at Steve too, who looks unsure whether he agrees with them, or just wants to strangle Tony.

“Can do,” Tony says, and then offers the silver packet of fruit he’s been eating out of to Steve. “Blueberry?”

“Yet you’re confused about why they didn’t want you around.”

“An intelligence organization that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome,” Tony says.

Liz wants to smile, but she’s beginning to get a headache, and remembering Bruce’s reaction to Loki earlier, she has a feeling it’s a sign of more than stress and stimulation.

“I think Loki’s trying to wind us up,” Steve says, his words paralleling her thoughts. “This is a man who means to start a war and if we don’t stay focused, he’ll succeed. We have orders. We should follow them.”

Liz shakes her head. “You’re right about Loki, but I’m not in the business of following orders. I’ve seen what happens to good people when orders are followed without question and frankly, fuck that shit. I vote for Tony’s plan.”

Steve frowns, and Bruce remains silent, but Tony nods in her direction. “Thank you for that ringing endorsement. I vote for my plan too. Following’s not really my style.”

“And you’re all about style, aren’t you?” Steve asks dryly, but Liz can see the doubt in his eyes. He lived through World War II if he really he is Captain America, the largest cautionary tale ever written about the atrocities that can result from following orders without question.

Tony’s opening his mouth again and Liz zaps him from across the table, then waggles her fingers at him when he glares at her in mock affront.

“Steve, tell me none of this smells a little funky to you,” Bruce asks quietly while Tony pretends to threaten her with his taser.

Steve looks at all three of them before turning to leave. “Just find the Cube.”

Tony looks like he wants to make another derogatory comment after the door closes behind him as Bruce walks towards one of the screens tracking radiation and Liz elbows him as she follows.

“The guy’s not wrong about Loki. He does have the jump on us,” Bruce says and Liz nods.

“He’s doing something, right now, somehow,” she states firmly, fixing them both with a stern stare. “And that is dangerous,” she adds, pointing at the staff, still glowing with soft blue light. “I can feel it, the energy. It is not friendly and it wants something.”

It wants something?” Tony asks, frowning at her. “Are we assigning sentience to inanimate objects now? Well, ones I didn’t design of course.”

Liz raises an eyebrow, and then her arm. “Raise your hand if you’ve had years of experience dealing with alien powers and devices.” Neither of them follow suit and she smiles grimly. “Not to mention my alien powers which have been itching ever since Loki came on board. Tell me I’m the only one with a headache that won’t go away?”

Bruce and Tony exchange telling glances before Tony shoots her a sharp glance. “You know, you still haven’t told us how you have all of this experience, or powers.”

“Sorry, I don’t like to spill my life story on the first date,” she says with a razor sharp grin.

Tony snorts. “Well. Whatever he’s doing, it’s going to blow up in his face. And I’m going to be there when it does.”

“I think the whole world will,” Liz mutters, staring at the blue crystal on the staff with a frown on her face while Bruce lets out a soft chuckle.

“Yeah. I’ll read all about it.”

“Uh-huh. Or you’ll be suiting up with the rest of us,” Tony says, oh-so-casually, and Liz turns back to stare at them, resolutely ignoring the tingle in her spine where she can feel the alien energy in the room.

Bruce chuckles again in denial. “No. You see, I don’t get a suit of armor. I’m exposed. Like a nerve,” he says, his voice a tangled mess of emotions. “It’s a nightmare.”

“You know, I’ve got a cluster of shrapnel trying every second to crawl its way into my heart. This stops it,” Tony says, drawing Liz's attention as she contemplates the glowing circle in his chest for the first time. Shrapnel. She wonders if she could dissolve it. “This little circle of light is part of me now,” he continues as he approaches Bruce, meeting his gaze from the other side of a transparent screen. “Not just armor. It’s a terrible privilege.”

She thinks she probably could. Now is not the time to offer, but she’ll remember, for after this crisis.

Assuming there is an after this crisis.

“But you can control it,” Bruce is saying, and Tony smiles faintly.

“Because I learned how.”

“It’s different,” Bruce says with a head shake.

“Hey, I read all about your accident,” Tony continues, “That much gamma exposure should have killed you.”

“So you’re saying that the Hulk,” Bruce pauses, looking down with a grimace, “The other guy saved my life?” Tony doesn’t answer and Bruce nods. “That’s nice. It’s a nice sentiment. Saved it for what?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Tony says before walking away.

“You may not enjoy that,” Bruce says, touching the screen again.

“And you just might,” Tony retorts, and Liz thinks they’re both right, and also that they all have a disturbing amount in common.

Bruce’s life was saved by the Hulk beneath his skin, Tony’s by the arc reactor in his chest, and Liz’s by the alien energy that made itself a part of her. All of them were changed as a result, all are different. And all were brought here, for a purpose.

A purpose that might save them, or might kill them all over again.

She shakes off that disturbing thought and gets back to work. It’s been a long day, it’s going to get longer, and morbid philosophizing can wait until after the immediate threat has passed, assuming it ever does.

For now she will help these brilliant men try to find a solution to their problems, and she will pay attention to everything her senses are telling her.

War is coming, and she intends for them to win it.

A/N2: The chapter title is from the song Many the Miles by Sara Bareilles.
Last edited by Whimsicality on Sat Dec 28, 2013 9:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter 4 ~ 7/

Post by Whimsicality » Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:33 pm

Feedback: Thanks you two! I definitely love the Science Bro'ing, and there will be more (with Jane included for sure :D)

Part Two of:
red letter day and i’m in a blue mood
(In which the world does not end and Phil Coulson does not die.)
Tony’s decryption program finishes running and he leaves her and Bruce to tracking the Tesseract as he sorts through the data. “I think I know why SHIELD didn’t have you in their packet,” he says after muttering to himself for a while. “Did you know that there’s a branch of the FBI that very much wants to kill or capture you?”

Liz blanches and looks up at him, feeling Bruce’s cautious gaze on the back of her head. “I could have guessed. They were supposed to have been disbanded, but,” she lets out a short, bitter laugh, “My inner cynic knew better. What does SHIELD have to do with them?”

“Well apparently they’re trying to keep the FBI from finding you, hence keeping you out of any official documents. Although that still doesn’t explain why they didn’t tell you anything.”

Realizing that her nails are digging gouges into her palms, Liz lays her hands flat down on the nearest surface (a screen that goes crazy at her touch) and slowly breathes in and out, fighting off the panic attack that wants to consume her. “Well, I guess I owe them a thank you card.”

Tony snorts, “That’s not all they’ve been doing, so let’s hold off on the gratitude.”

Before she or Bruce can speak, Fury is striding into the room. “What are you doing, Mr. Stark?”

“Uh, kind of been wondering the same thing about you,” Tony answers calmly from his perch on a table.

“You’re supposed to be locating the Tesseract,” Fury says, and Bruce interrupts.

“We are. The model’s locked and we’re sweeping for the signature now. When we get a hit,” he says, pointing at one of the many screens, “We’ll have the location within half a mile.”

“Yeah, then you get your Cube back. No muss, no fuss,” Tony says, then pauses significantly. “What is Phase Two?”

Steve reappears and sets a weapon down on another table with an ominous clang. “Phase Two is SHIELD uses the Cube to make weapons. Sorry, computer was moving a little slow for me,” he says with a glance at Tony.

“Rogers, we gathered everything related to the Tesseract. This does not mean that we’re making-”

Tony interrupts Fury before he can finish his sentence and swings around one of the big screens with some of his hacked information on it. “I’m sorry Nick. What were you lying?”

“I was wrong, Director,” Steve says, anger and disappointment on his face. “The world hasn’t changed a bit.”

Liz glances away from them, not really sure where she stands in this fight or if she even has a dog in it all things considered, and sees Thor and Agent Romanov coming in, the latter of whom is looking at Bruce with a wary expression on her face that instantly worries Liz. She realizes that her headache is worse and the argument has distracted her from the fact that the alien energy in the room is growing.

Something bad is coming and she doesn’t know how to stop it.

“Did you know about this?” Bruce asks the redhead and she speaks over him.

“You want to think about removing yourself from this environment, Doctor?” she asks him with forced calm.

Bruce laughs. “I was in Calcutta. I was pretty well removed.”

“Loki is manipulating you,” Agent Romanov says, walking towards him slowly.

“And you’ve been doing what, exactly?” Bruce asks and Liz fights the urge to scream at all of them as her entire body vibrates with the conflicting energy of the alien power within her, and the alien power trying to influence them.

“You didn’t come here because I batted my eyelashes at you,” the Agent says, pausing a few feet from Bruce.

“Yes, and I’m not leaving because suddenly you get a little twitchy,” Bruce insists, grabbing the screen Tony was using earlier. “I’d like to know why SHIELD is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction.”

“Because of him,” Fury says suddenly, pointing at Thor.

Thor looks surprised, Liz isn’t. She just wants to know where the hell SHIELD was when she was fighting homicidal aliens when she was in highschool and should have been worrying about finals and homecoming instead of death and destruction.

“Last year, Earth had a visitor from another planet who had a grudge match that leveled a small town.”

“Wasn’t the first time,” Liz interrupts him defiantly, “Have you been building weapons since then? Since aliens took over Copper Summit and made my entire town disappear?”

Everyone stares at her for a moment and Fury grimaces. “We were not made aware of your circumstances, Ms. Parker, until it was too late to do anything about them. But since then we have learned that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned.”

“My people want nothing but peace with your planet,” Thor says, and Fury shakes his head.

“But, as Ms. Parker has already pointed out, your people are not the only ones out there. And you’re not the only threat. The world’s filling up with people who can’t be matched, that can’t be controlled.”

“Like you controlled the Cube?” Steve asks pointedly.

“Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies. It is a signal to all the realms that the Earth is ready for a higher form of war,” Thor states, his words heavy with knowledge.

“A higher form?” Steve asks, but Fury is already speaking again.

“You forced our hand. We had to come up with something,”

“A nuclear deterrent,” Tony interrupts, “Because that always calms everything right down.”

“Remind me again how you made your fortune, Stark,” Fury asks insultingly and Liz presses her palms against her temples, angry and afraid and overwhelmed by the emotions and energy of everyone, and everything, else in the room.

“I’m sure if he still made weapons, Stark would be neck-deep in-” Steve interjects, out of nowhere, and Liz knows that whatever Loki’s plan is, it’s succeeding.

“Wait. Hold on. How is this now about me?” Tony asks, and Steve retorts instantly.

“I’m sorry, isn’t everything?”

“I thought humans were more evolved than this,” Thor grinds out and Fury rounds on him.

“Excuse me, did we come to your planet and blow stuff up?”

The argument escalates, Agent Romanov drawn in, until Liz hears Bruce’s confession of attempted suicide and sees his hand descending on the staff out of the corner of her eye and claps her hands together with a crackle of electricity that makes the lights flicker and draws every eye in the room. “Shut. Up. Loki is doing this. And he’s using that staff,” she states with icy calm as she points to Bruce, who looks shocked to find it in his grasp.

Bruce sets the staff down with a grimace and the system indicates that the Tesseract is found before anyone can say a word. The room is deathly silent as he pulls up the information, although glares continue to fly, and before he can tell them what he found, an explosion rocks the ship, dropping the floor out from under Bruce, Liz, and Agent Romanov.

It takes Liz a moment to catch her breath from the pain and shock of the fall, and the alarms blaring don’t help, but she isn’t worried about herself. Agent Romanov is pinned beneath some metal but Bruce isn’t, and his hands are clenching as tension rides his body.

Liz hears Agent Romanov speaking to what must be an earpiece and crawls toward Bruce. She hesitates for a moment, and then grabs his hand, this time not holding back her abilities. She is instantly inundated with rage and pain and fear, a primal tide that would have knocked her to the ground if she wasn’t already prone.

Bruce’s head snaps up and he stares at her with eyes gone green. She distantly hears Agent Romanov’s gasp of fear and focuses on Bruce, the Bruce who joked with her and Tony in the lab, the Bruce who does not want this, and flings herself across the distance between their eyes until their minds are locked and he can see her as clearly as she can see him.

The flashes are different than they were with Max, violent and disjointed and tainted with energy that isn’t hers, or Bruce’s. She ignores all of it, and the way his wrist feels thicker under her fingers, and shoves every memory she has of him down his throat, along with every feeling of peace and calm and safety that she can muster.

They teeter on the edge of an abyss and she wonders, with fearful clarity, what will happen to her if she fails to bring him back while their minds are locked together. He sees this fear, as he sees everything she’s thinking and feeling right now, and he clings to it like a drowning man.

After a moment smaller than a nanosecond, she realizes she can feel their hearts beating in time and their breaths synchronizing. The other self inside his head shifts and grumbles, and then subsides.

Liz maintains the connection long enough to feel Bruce’s gratitude and then lets go, crashing back into her own body with a groan of pain and a rush of both energy and exhaustion that leaves her gasping. She breathes for a few seconds, and blinks until she can see reality instead of white light. When her vision clears, Bruce is still staring at her, his eyes brown again, and soft with something akin to wonder.

“I, I don’t know how you did that. But thank you,” he says quietly, and Liz manages a wobbly smile.

“Any time, Bruce.”

Agent Romanov clears her throat, drawing their attention to where she still lies pinned, her face a few shades paler than usual. “Yes, thank you Ms. Parker. Now, if you could help me get this off my leg and escort Bruce back to the lab, we still have a crisis to deal with.”

Liz nods and Bruce chuckles. “Well I certainly feel safer here than in Calcutta,” he says dryly as he helps Liz to her feet and then helps her shift metal debris off Agent Romanov’s leg.

Agent Romanov smiles tightly as she rises to her feet, testing her weakened leg with only the faintest wince. “You did find the Cube though, right Doc?” he nods. “Good, then as soon as this little snafu is dealt with, we can end this and you can go back to Calcutta, or anywhere else you wish to hide.”

She moves her gaze back to Liz while Bruce grimaces. “Get him to the lab, and keep him safe.” She barely waits for Liz’s answering nod before disappearing, speaking to her earpiece once again as Liz and Bruce exchange wan smiles.

“So, your whole town disappeared?” Bruce asks her a few minutes later, as they make their way cautiously down the service corridor.

Liz chuckles without humor. “Yeah, when I was seventeen. I disappeared too, for a little while. Temporal displacement. We came back though, and the ones responsible were killed. Well, most of them.” She has a feeling Nicholas is still alive, out there somewhere, doing who knows what, unless he found another ride back to Antar.

“Sounds like you’ve had an interesting life,” Bruce says after a moment and Liz snorts, this time with a hint of real amusement.

“Isn’t that a curse in China? May you have an interesting life?”

“There’s actually no proof it’s a real proverb,” Bruce replies with a wry smirk. “But it’s thought to have been inspired by a few actual Chinese proverbs including one that translates to ‘May you come to the attention of powerful people.’ Seems equally applicable to us.”

Liz laughs raggedly as they turn a corner and then another quickly, to veer away from the sound of gunshots. “If I ever find who cursed us with either one, I will happily return the favor.”

He chuckles agreement and then Liz stiffens as a chill runs down her spine and she feels that alien energy again, the one that tastes like Loki. A fragment of a dream with the same taste slips to the front of her mind and she inhales sharply as one vision of the future stands out.

She glances at Bruce, who is watching her with wary concern, and smiles grimly. “There’s somewhere I need to be. You can come with, but fair warning, it’s going to be a triggering situation and I may be too distracted to help.”

Bruce’s jaw clenches for a moment, but then he nods. “Lead on.”

She smiles at him with not a hint of bitterness, and does. He’s brave, braver than he’s ever been given credit for, and she hopes she isn’t leading him into another situation he’ll end up regretting.

She follows the trail of the energy, the taste of chaos and power and madness, and ignores every vibration and explosion and gunshot and shout that echoes down the hallways. She can feel Bruce behind her, carefully controlling his tension, and controls her own emotions with equal ruthlessness.

They reach a hole in the wall and while it tastes like Loki, the energy is strongest leading away from the hole. Liz peers through it anyway and sees Coulson, quiet man in a suit who brought them all together, sitting against a wall with blood staining his mouth and chest.

Bruce stiffens and she crawls over the ragged, smoking metal. Sprinting across the metal walkway, she crouches down beside Coulson just as Fury comes through the door. She ignores him, not even hearing the words that come out of his mouth, and places her hand on Coulson’s chest. “It’s going to be okay,” she tells him, and pushes, chasing away the taint of Loki’s weapon with her own energy.

She can heal without changing people, as long as she doesn’t form a connection. She doesn’t understand why Max did with her and Kyle and how it changed them, but didn’t with the children in the hospital (she did her homework, after her powers showed up, not wanting innocent children to be dissected.) Yet. She has a lot of yets to figure out these days.

The foreign energy fades and Coulson’s flesh knits back together. When it is done, she looks up from Coulson’s healthily colored face and bright eyes, power slipping back beneath her skin, and sees Fury and Bruce watching her. For the first time since she stepped off the plane with Captain America, she feels like no one, including herself, is wondering why she’s here.

She made the right choice, accepted the right job, and she tells Coulson this as she pulls him to his feet.

“I know,” he tells her, with that smile that means anything and everything, and she smiles back.

Afterwards, Fury tells them about the weapons, and the Avengers Initiative, and manages to pack enough guilt into the version of the speech in which Coulson doesn’t die, that Liz wonders how much worse it would have been had her vision come true and she hadn’t gotten there in time.

Before he can finish his speech though, Agent Romanov, whose name she now knows is Natasha thanks to the fragmented memories from Bruce slowly percolating through her skull, marches in and ignores Fury to get in Liz’s face. “I need you to come look at someone.”

Liz blinks in surprise, but nods and rises to her feet, following along with one last glance at Bruce and Tony and Steve, all sitting at the table under Coulson’s watchful gaze. She smiles again. This version of reality is better.

If only it would be so easy to avert everything else that is coming.

Natasha leads her into a room with a man sitting on a chair, straps dangling by his wrists. “I think he’s fine. I performed a... cognitive recalibration on him. But I, he, wants you to make sure that Loki’s gone.”

Liz nods and meets the man’s gaze, his eyes a pretty hazel color surrounded by thin lines of pain and exhaustion. “I can do that, but, it means I have to go into your head. I can’t control you that way, I don’t have that power, but I will see you, and you will see me. And after everything, well, it might hurt,” she says quietly, wanting to make sure he understands what she’s offering before she forces another foreign mental presence on him.

He grimaces, flicking a glance at Natasha, but nods. “Do it. Please.”

She reaches out to rest her hand on his, politely ignoring his instinctive flinch before he lets her touch him. “Ready?” she asks, still meeting his eyes, and waits for another nod before slipping in, more carefully than she did with Bruce.

She doesn’t linger, doesn’t look for anything other than the trace of Loki’s energy or anything else that doesn’t belong, and carefully pretends she doesn’t feel his turbulent emotions as she slips back out.

He’s watching her, hidden desperation beneath his hard gaze, and she smiles, soft but firm. “You’re clean. He’s all gone.”

He dips his head in relief and Liz feels the tension drain out of him and Natasha. “I’m going to head back to the others,” she says after a moment, sensing that they won’t speak again with her there.

Natasha grants her something like a genuine smile and Liz returns it before stepping out into the hallway. She only makes it halfway down the long corridor before she meets Steve coming the other way, a determined expression on his face. They both stop and he looks at her for a moment. “You did good today. Stopping Bruce, saving Coulson.”

Liz blinks. “Thank you?”

“I know you said you’re not in the business of following orders. But how about joining in on a fight?” he asks, those ridiculous blue eyes locked on hers with an intensity that’s hard to resist.

She smiles, slowly. “I can do that. For this? I can definitely do that.”

He nods sharply. “Good, wait here.” She blinks again, but nods, and he strides past her to go in the door she just left, returning moments later with a faint, but grim smile on his face. “They’re in too, let’s go.”

She nods and follows him, making it only a few paces before he pauses and stares at her again. “Do you have a suit?”

She raises an eyebrow, and then shakes her head with a rueful smile. “I don’t have a suit, or a codename. I’m just the intern, remember?”

That earns her a dry chuckle. “Maybe Agent Romanov has something you can wear.”

Liz wrinkles her nose, considering the differences in their figures and her lack of desire to wear the skin tight anything that seems to be the dress code at SHIELD, but nods again, and resumes following him. Natasha and Clint meet them shortly after and Natasha manages to find something for her to wear that’s a lot sturdier than her jeans and a t-shirt. The redhead eyes her for a moment after she’s slipped into the bodysuit and boots. “Can you shoot?”

Liz shakes her head. “I don’t need a gun; I’ve got these,” she says, holding up her hands and coating them in electricity. “And that is not my only trick.” It’s certainly not her most dangerous ability: there’s a reason it’s the one she’s most willing to display in front of the government agency she will never completely trust.

Natasha smiles at her again, slow and deadly, and then they’re following Steve into a plane, along with Bruce who slipped into the room with a hunched shoulders and a conflicted smile, and launching for New York and the invasion Liz has been anticipating with a mix of dread and hope for months. She hasn’t seen any endings for the fight, only bits and pieces of the action and a giant hole in the sky, but she refuses to believe that everyone gathered here won’t be enough to stop what’s coming.

She’s going to be right this time too, only with a much better outcome.

Tony in his suit is leading the way, and he quickly outpaces them, a fact that has them all twitching for various reasons. Liz takes the time to breathe. She’s not tired, despite the lack of sleep and falling through a floor and everything that came after. Her energy has been at full levels since she connected with Bruce and healing Coulson barely dented it.

She’s been preparing for this. She’s meditated and practiced ever since the day Thor went back home and she thinks she has a shot at surviving what’s to come. She knows she can help, at least with thinning the herd, and for the rest, well for the rest she’s going to trust her team. Which is just about the weirdest thought she’s had in a very weird life, but it’s also a good thought.

She gasps suddenly, and slides down to the floor as a rush of foreign energy floods her and a beam of light shoots into the sky. Bruce crouches down beside her and, after a moment’s hesitation, lightly touches her hand. “Are you okay?”

She laughs shakily, and feels a little drunk. “Yeah, sorry, um, the portal’s open. And it feels, wow, yeah, that’s intense. Just give me a minute, I’ll be fine.”

And then they’re there and firing on alien ships and she twists her hand until it’s gripping Bruce’s tightly as the ship tilts in midair. “Just breathe with me, until we land, and then we’ve both got this.”

He nods and doesn’t let go, not even when one side of the plane explodes and they’re careening toward the ground. Clint manages a safe(ish) landing and they all walk down the ramp into a world gone mad. Aliens and machines are falling out of the sky, people are screaming and dying, and fire and rubble fill the streets.

Liz tunes backs into the others when a voice speaks into her skull, “The energy around the Cube is unbreakable,” Tony says into the earpieces Liz finally has one of and then Steve, the Captain, is giving orders as Thor lands on the ground beside them, returned from wherever he fell.

A giant fucking armored space whale led by Tony interrupts the rest of those orders and Bruce finally lets go of her hand and walks toward it.

“Dr. Banner!” Steve calls out, “Now might be a really good time for you get angry.”

“That’s my secret, Captain,” Bruce says with a smile that isn’t as he walks toward the monstrosity bearing down on them. “I’m always angry,” and then he isn’t Bruce anymore and he’s smashing the giant space whale and Liz decides it’s time to focus or she’s going to get herself killed.

Steve holds his shield over her and Natasha’s heads and after the thing finishes dying, they’re suddenly the epicenter of a whole hell of a lot of angry aliens and more space whales are flying down from the stars.

“Call it, Captain,” Tony says, all enmity overcome in the face of the nightmare they need to stop.

“All right, listen up. Until we can close that portal, our priority is containment. Barton, I want you on that roof. Eyes on everything. Call out patterns and strays. Stark, you got the perimeter. Anything gets more than three blocks out, you turn it back or you turn it to ash,” Steve orders, with the kind of voice you want to listen to.

“Give me a lift?” Clint asks Tony and even though she can’t see it, Liz knows Tony’s smirking as he replies.

“Better clench up, Legolas,” before grabbing Clint and blasting into the air.

Liz is more than a little jealous, she’s always wanted to fly, but that is far from important at the moment and she wrenches her mind back under control as turns her attention back to Steve who isn’t done.

“Thor, you got to try and bottleneck that portal. Slow them down. You got the lightning. Light the bastards up.”

Thor doesn’t even bother to nod, just sends his hammer swinging and flies into the air while Steve looks back down at her and Natasha. “Us three, we stay here on the ground. We keep the fighting here.” He turns, glances at the green rage monster that’s been standing calmly beside them. “And Hulk,” there’s a pause as the Hulk looks down at him and Liz wonders what he sees. “Smash.”

Hulk grins and leaps into the air with a roar, crushing aliens with his fists and feet as he leaps from building to building.

Liz grins fiercely and lets her own green out, her skin sheathed in dancing light as she spins away from Steve and Natasha and lets loose, blasting two of the ground level aliens until their corpses are sizzling on the street. Another one grabs her before she can move out of the way and she doesn’t fight it, just destabilizes every molecule in contact with her skin, and all the ones beyond them, until all that’s left is a puddle of goo at her feet. The next one she turns to stone and watches shatter as it falls.

The others had been so limited by their fear, by their desire to conceal their abilities, that they’d never considered the possibilities. Max had erased a bullet, but he hadn’t thought to remove the blood from her uniform, or change his cheek cells in biology. They’d had no idea of just how much they could do. They could manipulate the very materials of life, of everything, and they had hid in the shadows.

With good reason, admittedly, but she doesn’t intend to waste the gift she’s been given now that she has people at her back and one government agency hiding her from the government agency that wants to kill and study her.

She turns back to the others just in time to see Steve launch Natasha into the air and matches his grin at the undeniable grace of the other woman as she snags herself a ride.

After that, things turn into a bit of blur. She kills, a lot, and takes a few hits that she knows will hurt like a bitch later, silently wishing that she’d taken more than two semesters of self-defense back at Brown and very grateful for whatever material makes up the suit Natasha gave her.

Sometimes Steve is beside her, and sometimes he isn’t, and sometimes she follows directions from Clint to hotspots in need of assistance. Once the Hulk lands in front of her, on top of another whale, and she meets his eyes, wondering at the intelligence she sees there, and wondering how much he sensed of her pulling Bruce back from the edge. Then he’s gone again and there are more aliens and she loses herself to the fight.

Fury comes over the earpiece, cutting through the haze of blood and pain and anger and a vicious sort of glee. He speaks of a missile and then Tony is flying through the air and Liz’s heart is in her throat. Ava was right, there is someone above SHIELD, and they are not to be trusted.

She stumbles her way toward Steve and Thor, following the scent of ozone, and they all watch, holding their breaths, as Tony guides the missile through the portal, before falling radio silent. They watch as the aliens drop and as fire blooms among the stars and she can feel how much it hurts Steve to give Natasha the order to close the portal.

But Thor isn’t the only one to have a last second reprieve and a tiny figure falls out of the sky, red and gold nearly indistinguishable beneath the dents and scuffs and Hulk is there, to catch him, and to roar, and they all breathe again.

“We won,” Steve says softly, and Liz laughs disbelievingly to herself.

They won. Who’d of thunk.

Tony babbles about food and Liz still feels dizzy and Thor reminds them that they have a mastermind to deal with.

A mastermind who’s more than beaten and puts up no more fight, although Liz doubts that he’s truly given up hope of ever trying again. He still tastes like chaos.

They won, she thinks again.

It’s starting to feel real.

Two days or so later, after food on a stick and endless debriefs and Tony disappearing at regular intervals and Liz pissing off SHIELD medical by healing the human members of the team of their various injuries so they don’t have to deal with the doctors they all seem to hate, they gather in Central Park to bid Thor and Loki and the Tesseract farewell.

“Jane is still looking. She’ll figure it out,” Liz tells Thor, wanting to banish the shadows she sees in his eyes as he stands beside his brother, who is chained but not broken.

His face softens and he squeezes her arm. “Tell her, tell her that I miss her. And that I will return, even if she does not find a way.”

Liz smiles and nods, then impulsively hugs him, well, as much of him as she can fit her arms around, before pulling away to let the others speak if they’re so inclined.

Instead silent farewells are extended and Thor and Loki disappear in a flash of blue light that makes Liz feel a little drunk again. She hopes that doesn’t become a regular thing. Drunk Liz is a little more dangerous than drunk Max was, all those years ago, and apparently routine exposure to alien energy comes with the job.

The rest of them also exchange farewells, some spoken, some not, and then Tony is dragging her and Bruce to a shiny red convertible. “Come on you two, we have science to do!”

“I have a job to get back to,” Liz says with a smile, but slips into the bitch-seat anyway, and Tony grins at her with trademarked charm.

“Don’t worry, Jane’s invited too, and whatever other tag-alongs you have. There is more than enough room at the tower for all of us geniuses, and our toys.”

Liz snorts and Bruce turns and catches her gaze, his brown eyes warm and twinkling and his shoulder, solidly pressed against hers, even warmer, and she flushes as the feeling of intoxication intensifies.

They won, she tells herself again, and things are different now. Her life now has a Bruce, and a Tony, and other friends, teammates, who are all fucked up special in their own ways.

The FBI still wants to kill her, and, thanks to the news footage of the attack, SHIELD might not be so successful at hiding her anymore. Not to mention whoever above SHIELD sent that nuke, which she knows the others haven’t forgotten about either.

But this team, and these geniuses on either side of her, one of whom is still stealing glances at her with eyes that make her feel like she’s in high school again, crushing on her lab partner, have her back.

“We won,” she says out loud, and laughs. Bruce and Tony grin at her before Bruce pointedly directs Tony’s attention back to the traffic around them and Liz laughs again, softer this time.

They won.

A/N: The battle scene was shortened cause gosh those are a bitch to write, so apologies for the canon inconsistencies there.
Last edited by Whimsicality on Sat Dec 28, 2013 9:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter 5 ~ 7/

Post by Whimsicality » Sun Jul 21, 2013 12:37 am

Kris: Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the Liz/Bruce hints in this chapter :D
booktv-girl2310: Thanks! You'll get lots more of them in this chapter :D
Jenna: Thanks for the feedback! (on both sites :wink:) And yeah, her codename is proving a tough nut to crack...but thanks for the suggestions!
Yas: Thank you! And yes, I agree. Steve was a close second choice for Liz's pairing (I have a LOT of Steve feels) and I still may end up writing a Liz/Steve something-or-other at some point. But couldn't resist Liz/Bruce for this particular story.
lizandzackfan: Thanks! I hope you enjoy this chapter :D

with a name i’d never chosen i can make my first steps
(In which Liz’s life gets no less odd, she’s okay with that, and Plans are made.)
During the next few weeks of Liz’s life she would swear she could feel her world tilting on its axis, spinning fast, erratic, and almost entirely out of her control.

The conversations are the first thing to knock her off kilter. Well, and the human Tesseract known as Tony fucking Stark. (She wonders what his middle name really is, and if he would legally change it to fucking if she told him how often she thought of him that way. It strikes her as something he would enjoy putting on business cards.)

“So, do you want your own lab, or...?” Tony asks her, after showing Bruce to his lab, which takes up half a floor on the next-to-top floor of R&D, below the residential floors and luckily undamaged in the attack, and is far too impressive to have been created after Tony met him.

“Um,” Liz says, somewhat dazedly, and exchanges a glance with Bruce, who looks equally shell-shocked (if you know what you’re looking for beneath his perpetual distant amusement.) “No? I’d rather keep being Jane’s intern until I’m done with my degrees, all of them.”

Tony snorts and she flips him off. Child geniuses. Ugh. She so should have skipped Jr. High when the school offered instead of worrying about maintaining socialization norms.

“Well,” she speaks up again, then pauses and smiles hesitantly at Bruce. “Jane’s and Bruce’s, if he’ll have me.”

Bruce’s eyes light up and he smiles at her crookedly. “Of course.”

Liz grins, feeling a little warmer than can be accounted for in the perfectly climate controlled tower and Tony claps his hands. “Awesome, that’s settled. Go call your boss and tell her I’ll have a plane waiting for her tomorrow morning at nine. I’m already working on setting up a floor for her and Thor, whenever he gets his godlike ass back here. I figure you can share one with the other intern, Darnesha?”

“Darcy,” Liz corrects him with a grin, carefully ignoring the realization that Tony Stark wants her to live and work in his tower and is giving her a floorbecause if she thinks about it too closely, she’ll probably pass out. “And um, her girlfriend, my friend, Ava, she’s going to be coming along too, if that’s okay?”

“Of course! The more the merrier,” Tony says with a manic grin before spinning on his heels and striding toward the elevators. “Oh! Your guys’ new laptops and cell phones are on the desk over there,” he calls over his shoulder with a distracted wave that encompasses the whole room. “I have to go bargain with Pepper about percentages, but I’ll be back to kidnap you for lunch. Jarvis! Remind me about lunch.”

“Yes sir,” the charming voice of his AI responds and Liz feels faint again. Jarvis is the most amazing thing she’s ever encountered, and she includes every single alien and superhero on that list. He’s another thing she’s been carefully ignoring ever since Tony introduced them because if she doesn’t ignore his existence until she has time to process, then she’ll never stop talking to him.

Bruce appears at her elbow and guides her to a chair, looking down at her with amused concern once she’s seated herself and taken enough deep breaths to feel a little less lightheaded. “Bit overwhelming, isn’t he?”

“Holy fuck that’s an understatement,” she squeaks out, running a distracted hand through her hair. “I’m equipped to deal with deadly alien encounters; that’s practically old hat for me at this point, but this?” Liz says with a slightly hysterical laugh and an arm wave that entirely fails to encompass their morning since Tony took the reins, then takes another deep breath or three before meeting his gaze. “How are you staying so calm?”

He raises an eyebrow at her and she flushes. “Right, calm is kind of your motto. Science fiction fuckery is mine.”

He laughs, a warmer sound than most of his chuckles, and she feels accomplished beneath the excitementpanicholyfuckwhatishappeningtomylife that is currently overwhelming her brain.

“Sounds like a good motto for all of us,” Bruce says with another chuckle, then glances away from her to scan the lab. “We’ve got sinks, and beakers, want some water?”

“Yes please,” she answers, only slightly reluctantly as he seems to have forgotten his hand on her shoulder and she would much rather keep it there where it’s helping to ground her in reality.

The warmth from his palm lingers after he pulls away and she makes a mental note of the fact that he seems to run a warmer temperature than average. “I wonder if Tony has sent us copies of our files yet,” she muses as Bruce fills up two clear beakers at the closest sink.

“He has, Ms. Parker, you’ll find the files on the laptops he left for you.” It’s Jarvis again and Liz almost falls out of her chair. Bruce looks like he wants to laugh at her and she shoots him her best Maria wrangling glare. (A few degrees shy of her Jane wrangling glare.)

“Thank you, Jarvis.” She hesitates, then plunges forward, not particularly caring if she adds more blackmail fodder to the list Tony has undoubtedly been compiling. “Um, also, I just want you to know that you are the most amazing being I’ve ever had contact with, and that includes two gods at this point, so yeah, count me in as captain of the Jarvis fan club, and I apologize if I end up babbling at you a lot since it appears I’ll be living here and-” she stops when Bruce hands her the water, his eyes twinkling madly as he glances at her before looking away again.

She glares at his turned away face as she takes a sip from the beaker and he raises his hands defensively. “Hey, I agree with you, Jarvis is an amazing piece of technology.”

“Thank you, Ms. Parker, Doctor Banner,” Jarvis says after a beat, sounding almost flustered. “Do let me know if you need anything else.”

Liz groans and slumps in the chair, almost sliding out of it before she catches herself. “At least I didn’t offer to have his babies.”

Bruce’s control slips at that and he snorts. “That would be an interesting conversation to have with Tony.”

Liz laughs. “I bet he’d be thrilled and offer to help me figure out to create cyborgs with my genetic material and Jarvis’ code.”

“That sounds dangerously plausible,” Bruce says, then looks at her over his glasses. “Let’s never mention this to him.”

“Indeed, Sir does not need any encouragement,” Jarvis voice chimes in dryly and Liz can’t contain herself, nearly spilling water everywhere as she laughs into her hands before Bruce calmly takes the beaker back from her and sets it on the closest shiny metal lab table.

Once she’s regained her equanimity, summoning the control that has gotten her through countless crises, she straightens and holds her hand out to Bruce. She shakes his solemnly when he proffers it, and then uses it to pull herself to her feet. “Agreed. Now let’s check out the goodies, shall we? I have a phone call to make and some people to shock the hell out of.”

Bruce nods, his lips quirked into that little half smile he uses as effectively as Tony wields his sunglasses and manic charm. They meander their way through the lab, poking at every nook and cranny, and Liz watches with happy amusement as Bruce fidgets more and more with his clothes as the true extent of what Tony has given him is revealed.

Eventually they make it to a gigantic desk on the far wall, equipped with every possible item of office hardware. Two shiny laptops, both a bright metallic green, are sitting side by side in the middle of it, and Liz bites off another laugh, shaking her head as she runs a hand over the one that has a subtle alien head embossed on the top. “He doesn’t do things by halves, does he?”

Bruce is staring down at the other one, with a pair of suspiciously familiar glasses impressed into the metal, and chuckles softly. “No he doesn’t.” His lips curve down slightly. “Makes me wonder how many people in his life have taken advantage of that.”

Liz purses her lips, considering that. “Probably far too many.” She nudges Bruce’s shoulder with hers until he looks up at her and smiles, not a nice smile either. “Good thing he now has some dangerous roommates to keep the parasites at bay.”

Bruce nods thoughtfully. “I think he already has one dangerous roommate who protects him from the world.”

“Pepper?” Liz asks, nodding to herself before he can reply as she remembers her brief impression of the woman, one of the most powerful in the world, on the whirlwind tour Tony gave them of the non-damaged parts of the tower. She’d been beautiful, charming, warm, and terrifyingly competent as she greeted them, deftly managed Tony, and never took a break from the seeming endless string of tasks required of the CEO of Stark Industries. “I’m pretty sure she could make Fury back down if she wanted to.”

He nods in agreement and Liz’s gaze drifts back down the desk and the two small clear devices she wouldn’t have known were phones if she hadn’t seen Tony using his. “I will never stop geeking out over all the holographic interfaces around here,” she murmurs as she picks the one next to her laptop up, awe in her tone as she recalls many days with Alex and Maria, discussing what they would do with a holodeck.

Bruce is still staring down at the laptop, fingers hovering over it as if afraid to touch, and Liz takes a step away. “I’m going to go make that phone call; have fun playing with your new toys.”

He makes a distracted humming noise and she smiles to herself before making her way over to the empty corridor and sliding down the wall to sit on the floor just outside the lab. She hesitantly taps the clear glass-like substance (knowing Tony as she’s beginning to, she’s sure it’s something he invented and can probably stand up to just about anything short of a bomb) and it instantly lights up, showing an image of her fingerprint briefly before revealing a screen full of holographic icons.

She touches the icon that has a little face, assuming it’s the contacts, and then laughs out loud. In order, she has the following contacts already loaded: Coulson, Agent Coulson; Hammertime; Jolly Green Giant; Nikita; Old Glory; Optimus Prime, Pepper HBIC Potts; and Robin Hood, along with Darcy and Jane whom he apparently didn’t know well enough to nickname.

Clicking on Optimus Prime, she changes it to Tony Fucking Stark instead, and then changes Jolly Green Giant to Bruce. The others she leaves for now, sparing a thought to wonder how she’s listed in his phone before deciding she doesn’t want to know.

She touches the little phone icon next to Darcy’s name and holds it up to her ear. Predictably, it is picked up halfway through the first ring. “You were on TV. Also Jane is pissed that you saw Thor and didn’t call her. We tried to call you but you never answered. When are you coming back?”

“I know. I have a message for her. My phone got, lost or destroyed, I honestly can’t remember, but I have a new one now,” she says, wondering briefly how Tony managed to get this phone to register her old number, before reminding herself, again, that he’s Tony fucking Stark. “And I’m not, instead you’re coming here,” she continues, her voice perfectly calm, and waits for the explosion. Darcy does not disappoint.

“What?! That’s all you have to say?! And what do you mean we’re coming there? Where is there?”

Liz laughs. “Trust me, I have a lot more to say, but it can wait. And I am currently in Stark Tower, where we will all be living and working for the foreseeable future. No I’m not kidding and yes I will wait while you finish hyperventilating.”

There’s a brief pause. “You are evil.” Another pause. “And you’d damn well better not be kidding.”

“I’m not,” Liz promises. “In fact, Tony is sending over a plane, so you and Ava and Jane need to be all packed up and ready to go, including the lab, by nine tomorrow morning.”

The pause is longer this time. “Holy fuck!”

Liz laughs again until Darcy’s sharp voice cuts her off. “By the way, Kyle and Maria have both called and they are not happy with you.”

Liz winces and lets her head thud back against the wall. “No, they wouldn’t be. I’ll call them, I promise. Can you pass the phone to Jane?”

“Hmph,” Darcy says, still sounding irritated, but her voice is soft when she speaks again. “I’m glad you’re okay; we all are.”

Smiling, Liz blinks against the sudden sting in her eyes. “Me too.”

“Wake us up to say goodbye next time, will you?” Darcy continues, her tone unnaturally light. Liz’s throat tightens and before she can reply Darcy is blithely continuing. “Anyways, here’s Jane, see you tomorrow I guess.”

“Where is he?” Jane demands, and then a second later, “And are you okay? Because they have some footage from phones and security cameras and it looks like one of the aliens shot you.”

“I’m fine,” Liz says when the lump in her throat subsides enough for her to speak again. “I healed myself, and the shot wasn’t that bad.” This is a lie, but she honestly hadn’t noticed the wound until after they’d tied up Loki, and Steve, going immediately into Captain mode despite everyone’s exhaustion, asked about the blood. “And Thor,” she pauses, knowing this is going to hurt, “Thor is gone. But he told me to tell you that he misses you and that he’ll find a way back, even if you can’t figure out the bridge. Which you totally can,” she adds, sensing the emotional storm building on the other end of the line.

Instead of an explosion, however, Jane’s next words are very quiet, “I miss him too.” She laughs softly, an incredulous sound. “I’m a scientist and I knew him for two days and now I’m what, in love? How is this rational?”

“It’s not, and you know that’s not the point,” Liz says gently, thinking of the day she was the one falling in love with an alien after far too short a time. “Sometimes it only takes one moment to make a connection with someone.”

Jane laughs again, and then sighs tiredly. “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t made a connection. But then I think about him, about not ever seeing him again, and that’s worse.”

“Well, we can fix that,” Liz says in a firm and upbeat tone. “Tony Stark wants to give you a lab in his tower, with the best equipment money can’t buy, because he doesn’t sell the really good stuff, and you, the world’s expert on Einstein-Rosen bridges are going to bring your man home, got it?”

There’s a spluttering noise, and then the sounds of a high-pitched Jane conversing with Darcy in the background and suddenly Ava’s voice is coming through the speakers. “I think you broke your boss,” she says dryly, and Liz is laughing again, but it almost sounds like crying instead because she can hear the relief in Ava’s voice under the humor and it’s starting to sink that she could have died and she hadn’t even said goodbye to the people she cared about the most.

“I fucked up, didn’t I?”

“Little bit, Cornball, little bit. But, we forgive you, because we love you. Although I don’t think Kyle and Maria are going to be nearly as nice about it, so have fun with that,” Ava’s voice is gentle and affectionate and that hurts almost more than Darcy’s sharpness as Liz chokes off another laugh that’s really kind of a sob.

“Do you know if my parents saw the news?” she asks after a few moments of silence while Ava patiently waits for her to regain control of herself again.

“Kyle and Maria didn’t say, and the footage is pretty shaky, so it’s possible they don’t know. If they don’t, are you going to tell them?”

“I, I have no idea,” Liz answers honestly, her mind spinning in a dozen different directions. “If I do, I have to tell them everything, and I don’t know if they can handle that. I don’t know if I can handle that.” She pauses, thinking it over. “And if I don’t, then if the next time doesn’t go so well...” she trails off, not even sure what awful thing to put at the end of that sentence.

She never wanted her parents to know the truth about her life; they were safer in the dark. But now that she’s not living in the shadows anymore, now that her face, however blurry, has been seen on the news fighting off an alien invasion, can she really justify lying to them?

“I can’t think about that right now, not yet,” she tells Ava, whose silent support she can feel through the phone. “Help them get everything together and I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? I need to call Maria and Kyle.”

“Sure thing,” Ava says cheerfully, but Liz remembers something and hits her head against the wall behind her again in self-recrimination.

“Wait, Ava, are you, are you going to be okay being in New York again? Are, are Rath and Lonnie still here?”

There’s a heavy silence for a minute and then Ava chuckles, an ugly, harsh sound. “They’re dead, Liz. I made them walk in front of a semi going seventy miles an hour. There was a lot less left of them than they left of Zan,” her voice is soft, tinged with the memory of righteous fury, and Liz blinks back tears for the sweet little girl Ava must have been when she came out of the pod, and for the beautiful, strong woman she is now.

“And yes, I’ll be okay. I have a new family now, remember?” Ava says, her voice warming again, the barest hint of hesitation underlying her teasing tone.

“Yes, you do,” Liz says to that doubt, no hint of it in her own voice. “And I’m glad, glad that you’ll be safe.”

“Ditto,” Ava says lightly, gratitude and affection clear in her voice. “Let’s keep it that way, k? Now call Kyle and Maria, before they hitchhike to New York and kick your ass.”

Liz grins, her darker emotions ebbing at low tide again. “Yes ma’am. See you tomorrow, try to keep Jane sane and Darcy from inciting the agents to homicide.”

Ava laughs and hangs up on her in lieu of answering. Liz sticks her tongue out at her phone, and then dials Kyle’s number from memory, figuring Maria will be with him anyway, and that he’ll be less likely to puncture her ear drum when he answers the phone.

She underestimates him.

“So you remember that time when you didn’t tell me that you’d died and an alien brought you back to life and I stalked you for a year? Or the time you used me to change the future without telling me? I forgave you for those. I’m not sure I’m going to forgive you for this one,” Kyle’s voice is hard, fear and fury and a desperate need bleeding from the gaping wound beneath the stone, and Liz suddenly feels like the lowest form of life on the planet, her heart seizing with actual, physical pain, at the proof of how much she hurt the people she loves more than anything else in the world.

She can’t catch her breath to speak and suddenly Kyle is speaking again, his voice soft and worried and painfully gentle, as if she’s made of glass and he’ll break her if he says another harsh word. “Liz? Liz are you okay? I didn’t mean it, just,” he takes a ragged breath and she knows he’s rubbing a hand over his face just like his father does after a rough day, “we were so fucking scared and mad and god, Liz, just say something.”

She’s crying, she thinks she has been since she heard his voice, and the tears loosen the tight fist that wrapped around her throat. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I love you both so much and I didn’t call and I’m sorry.”

She can hear Maria sobbing and cursing in the background and Kyle lets out a broken chuckle. “Yeah, well you’re an ass sometimes, but you’re our ass, so next time just fucking let us know when you’re going to risk your life fighting aliens, okay?”

“Okay,” she says, still crying, but also smiling, and so unbearably glad that she’s alive, that they love her even when she doesn’t deserve it, that she feels like she might explode.

“I could have helped, you know,” he says quietly. “You’re not the only one Max changed.”

“No!” she says, instant denial as panic stiffens her limbs and not caring that she’s being utterly hypocritical. “After Thor, I made a deal with them. They could have me, they could use me for invasions or whatever, but they couldn’t touch you, or Maria. I need, I need you guys to be safe. And I know that’s not fair, and I don’t have the right to ask it, but please, just, keep each other safe. As long as I know you two are okay, I’ll be fine, I will, and I’ll call, every time, I promise.”

“I promise to keep Maria safe, but I won’t promise not to keep you safe,” Kyle says gently, and Liz isn’t sure if she feels more fear or more love at the thought of him here, helping fight, especially now that she knows the FBI hasn’t given up. Before she can come up with words, any words, he’s passing the phone to Maria and she has to put her new thoughts and fears on hold.

“They shot you, Liz! There were aliens and they shot you! What the fuck were you thinking? You said you were done. You said we were done. Fighting off an alien invasion on national fucking television is not being done!”

“Maria, Maria! Breathe,” Liz instructs firmly, ignoring the wet burn of tears on her face as she focuses her entire being on reassuring her best friend, wishing she had the ability to physically reach through the phone and wrap her arms around her. “I know I should have called, but, you knew I wasn’t done,” she laughs, a brief moment of genuine amusement. “Kyle was right, I don’t know how to quit and I couldn’t just let them destroy New York. You’d have been furious if Broadway was destroyed.”

“Not as furious as if you were destroyed,” Maria says, her voice quiet, but more piercing than even Kyle’s had been, and Liz swallows, hard, her eyes slipping closed as a fresh flood of tears stains her cheeks.

“We need you Liz, you’re our center, always have been. You can’t be the one who does crazy things without a plan, that’s my job,” Maria says with a little laugh that doesn’t have any humor in it. “We need you, we need you to stay alive, okay? Nothing else matters. I can’t, I can’t lose you too, Liz, I can’t.”

Liz wipes her free hand across her face. “I’ll try, I promise. I can’t, I can’t not do this, but I won’t take needless risks, and I will always be there if you need me, okay? I can’t lose you guys either, I love you; you, you guys are a part of me, and-” she stops, her big brain out of words that aren’t just repeats of things she’s already said.

She doesn’t know how to reconcile her need to keep them happy and safe with her need to do something with the powers she has, the powers that came at the cost of Alex’s life, at the cost of all their lives.

“I know, I know Liz.” Maria sounds tired, so very tired, but her voice is warm with resigned affection. “We love you too, all of you, even that annoying martyr side that has to do things and is too stupid to quit when she should.”

Liz laughs, a broken sound, but doesn’t disagree. “Yeah, well, we all need flaws, right?”

Maria laughs too, a husky chuckle that makes Liz desperately miss listening to Maria sing in the car with sudden, fierce intensity. “Yeah we do.”

There’s a comfortable silence, still ragged around the edges with everything between them, but safe.

After a few minutes of quietly basking in the knowledge of each other’s existence, Kyle comes back on. “Call, every day, and visit when you can, okay? Your parents don’t know; I don’t think anyone could have recognized you who doesn’t know about your powers, but you never know when more footage might be found so you need to figure that out.”

“I will,” Liz says heavily, shoving that need down into a safe compartment to be dealt with soon, but not now. “Keep each other sane, okay? I’ll call, and I will come as soon as I can. I still have to figure out school, but I have a place to live, and a job, which you won’t believe but that can wait.”

Kyle chuckles. “Liz? At this point, I’ll believe anything you tell me, anything at all.”

“Yeah, well, I’m still having trouble with this one, so,” Liz says with a grin at the thought of their faces when she tells them about her new home. That news can wait for a skype call. “I love you, both of you, and I will call tomorrow, promise.”

“Good. Cause if you don’t, we will be showing up in New York, and you will be hog tied and brought back home whether you like it or not, clear?”

“Clear,” Liz says, smile softening as warmth blooms in her chest. He and Maria say goodbye and she hangs up the phone reluctantly, just breathing for a few minutes before opening her eyes again, still wishing they were close enough to touch.

When she blinks away the last few tears clogging her vision, she sees Bruce on the other side of the lab’s clear wall, trying to look like he’s not watching her with concern while typing on the laptop Tony gave him.

She smiles, touched and embarrassed, wondering how much of a wreck she looks after sobbing for at least the past ten minutes, and wipes her hand across her face again, this time with a little alien magic behind it. Afterwards, she tucks the phone into the pocket of her jeans and rises to her feet. She feels a little unsteady and takes another few breaths before walking back into the lab.

She thinks those phone calls might have drained her more than the battle did, and she has no idea what that says about her or if it’s a good or bad thing.

Liz leans against the table across from Bruce and studies him for a moment, then raises an eyebrow when he finally meets her gaze. “Do you have anyone you want to call?” she asks, knowing it is an invasion of privacy, but also knowing that she’s already invaded his privacy in a far more intimate way when she slipped inside his mind and brought him back from the brink.

He opens his mouth, then shakes his head. “No, not anymore,” he answers quietly. “The other guy kind of ruined my social life,” he adds with a twitch of a smile.

“Yeah, well he also saved New York City, and Tony’s life, so I’m personally kind of fond of him,” Liz says with gentle humor, smiling as he blinks at her with surprise and amusement.

“Dit-to,” Tony says as the elevator doors slide open, breezing into the room with a megawatt grin. “I know it’s early for lunch, but Pepper needs me for some meeting with the Mayor at one and she yells at me when I don’t eat, so, food? Yes? We can go anywhere you want, well, not any of the places that got flattened, although if you really wanted one of them, I’m sure they’d be willing to cook for us. There’s a kitchen in here somewhere that didn’t get crushed-”

“Tony,” Liz interrupts forcefully, while Bruce ducks his head to a hide a grin. “Honestly, I think we’re fine with a hot dog, whatever. Let’s just walk and see what we find, okay?”

Tony rolls his eyes at her, but nods, practically bouncing with energy. “Fine, plebian.” He turns to Bruce, who’s still sitting, and blinks at him. “Well, come on, food time, chop chop!”

Liz swallows a giggle and steps forward, winking at Bruce after he stands and Tony’s turned back to the elevator. “I think your first project in your new lab should be figuring how to convert that,” she says, pointing at Tony, still nearly vibrating with enthusiasm, “into a sustainable energy source.”

Tony laughs and spins around, tugging them both into the elevator. “You can’t bottle me, baby; I’m one of a kind, accept no substitutions.”

Liz snorts and Bruce chuckles as the elevator drops them down to the ground floor. Tony materializes sunglasses from somewhere and slides them over his nose. “Be prepared for some attention,” he warns them. “It’s New York, so people don’t give that much of a fuck, and you two shouldn’t be recognized, but my stock’s gone up a bit since we saved Manhattan.”

Liz nods with a small frown as she and Bruce exchange a glance. For all Tony’s ego (most of which is yet another mask, she thinks) she doubts he enjoys being mobbed when all he wants is a hot dog. “We can go to a restaurant if you want,” she says, trying not to let her thoughts show in her voice, “Less attention that way.”

Tony shoots her a sharp glance over the glasses and she knows her attempt at subterfuge failed. She grins at him, unashamed of the desire to protect, and lifts one shoulder in a half shrug. He huffs and shakes his head. “No, fuck that, now you’ve made me want a hot dog, and there’s a stand a few blocks away that has some special relish the woman will never give me the recipe for.”

“How awful of her, to deny you the chance to duplicate and mass market her livelihood,” Bruce deadpans and Liz laughs loudly as they step into the lobby, Tony favoring Bruce with a haughty glare.

“I sell technology, not food. Although now that you mention it, maybe I can interest her in expanding her business. Pepper’s always trying to get me to pay more attention to acquisitions.”

“I doubt that’s what she means,” Liz says with a small grin as they make their way across the marble floors of the lobby.

“And that’s what makes it fun,” Tony retorts with a genuine grin that morphs into something a little more dazzling and a lot less real as they step out onto the sidewalk.

Liz shakes her head, lips twitching, and tries to ignore the feeling that someone is aiming a gun at her head that she’s felt ever since she discovered she’d been caught on camera using her abilities. SHIELD employee or no, the paranoia earned from nearly eight years of keeping secrets out of fear for her life and the lives of those she loved isn’t going to just go away.

They make it two blocks before anyone does more than a take a second glance, and Tony flips the peace sign as a few awed college students snap pictures with their cell phones. No one actually attempts to speak with them, and Liz can see the relief she feels echoed in Bruce’s slumped shoulders as they reach a hot dog cart manned by a tiny redhead with laughing green eyes and a stubborn chin that clearly brooks no nonsense.

“Back again, Mr. Stark? I won’t sell you my recipe,” she warns with a stern frown that is in no way ruined by the dimple at the corner of her quirked lips.

“Mary, light of my life and giver of delicious hot dogs, how could you accuse me of such crass commercialism?” Tony asks, clasping a hand over his chest in a show of offense that is utterly ruined by his grin, once again an expression of genuine happiness.

“Hmph,” is Mary’s only reply. “The usual?”

“Yes please,” Tony says as he pulls out his wallet and then waves an arm at Bruce and Liz. “And whatever these two lugs want.” He turns sharply and gives them a stern finger shake. “As long as it includes the relish. You have to try the relish.”

Liz nods obediently and is deeply amused to see Bruce doing the same thing out of the corner of her eyes. They end up ordering the same thing Tony does (one hot dog and one polish dog with everything and extra relish) and after a few more minutes of banter disguised as harassment, Tony leads them down a random street toward the closest corner of Central Park.

Liz bites into the plain hot dog first and then moans with an utter lack of shame. “Fuck, Tony, you weren’t kidding, these are fantastic.”

Bruce nods, mouth too full to speak, and Tony swallows his own mouthful and laughs. “I have awesome taste, you should learn to never question that.”

Liz ponders this for a moment, takes another bite, or three, and nods. “Well, your girlfriend is basically the most amazing person on the planet, and your new roommates are pretty damn awesome, so I guess I have to agree with that statement.”

Tony looks like he’s torn between glaring at her and grinning and Bruce almost chokes on his second hot dog so Liz feels accomplished.

“I am telling Pepper you said that. She may try to kidnap you from me, so I need you to resist her shiny, shiny hair, because if you end up as my PA, one of us will end up electrocuted, and then Fury will get all up in my face about the team and things won’t end well,” Tony tells her, waving his finger at her in a tsking motion.

Liz snorts. “I promise Tony, I will never become your PA. And for the record, you’re the one who would end up electrocuted. Electricity kind of likes me, it’s a thing.”

“Reaallly,” Tony says, drawing the word out as he eyes her with clear fascination. “You and I are going to play with that nifty little ability later. And I’ll blame you if and when we short out the tower.”

“When, definitely when,” Bruce says dryly as he wipes a spot of relish off his cheek.

Tony shrugs, not denying it, and Liz chuckles her agreement, then takes a deep breath because she’s finished her second hot dog and they’ve reached the park. There’s a conversation she needs to have with Tony and now’s as good a time as any. “Hey, let’s sit, I need to ask you something.”

Tony’s gaze instantly sharpens and he studies her for a moment before nodding and plopping down in the middle of the nearest bench. Bruce hesitates for a moment before sitting down next to him and Liz sits down on Tony’s other side, curling her legs underneath her and swiveling to face them.

“I am not a healer,” she says after a moment. “What I did to Coulson isn’t some sort of healing ability, and it is directly related to how I killed about half of the Chitauri I fought.”

They’re both watching her intently, Bruce through his lowered eyelashes and Tony head on, his expression alive with curiosity and caution.

The side of her mouth twitches into a faint smile. “Molecular manipulation.”

Bruce’s head tilts up fully and both his and Tony’s eyes go wide with sudden knowledge. Liz chuckles, fully appreciative of the fact that she’s sitting here with two of the few people in the world who can truly grasp exactly what a power like that means.

“Ho-ly shit,” Tony breathes reverently, his face soft with wonder while Bruce just stares at her, utterly flabbergasted. “That’s, that’s, you’re the holy fucking grail of science. And I moved you into my tower! I am a motherfucking genius.”

Liz laughs, soft and genuine, and nods, feeling a surge of affection for the crazy and brilliant man still staring at her in awe. “Yes, you are. But that’s not actually the point I was trying to make.”

Tony looks confused but Bruce’s eyes widen again and he smiles at her, a warm approving smile that makes Liz flush slightly before meeting Tony’s inquiring gaze. “I can dissolve the shrapnel, and restore your organs to their proper, healthy state, if you want me to,” she says softly, and watches as Tony rocks back on the bench as if her words were blows, his skin going several shades paler and his pupils dilating.

She bites her lip and wipes her suddenly sweaty palms on her jeans. “It’s up to you. I know the reactor’s proved useful,” she says with a hint of rueful smile, remembering the security footage she’d seen of Loki trying and failing to possess Tony with his staff. “But,”

“It also makes me a target. It’s a weakness,” Tony says, his voice harsh with blunt honesty, “And it’s already almost killed me once or twice.”

She nods, flicking another glance at Bruce, who’s looking at Tony with a kind of distant pain.

“I’d have to redesign the suit, incorporate the arc reactor into it,” Tony mutters to himself, his eyes darting from side to side and his hands tense against his legs, oil stained fingers splayed out as if he’s already designing it in his mind. He probably is.

“I,” he says, looking up at her, his face carefully blank of all emotion. “I’ll get back to you on that.”

She nods, stomach churning with the desire to say something, anything, to take away the ghosts in his eyes, and knows there isn’t anything she can say or do that can.

Before any of them break the ensuing silence, a familiar figure in a suit appears in front of them and Liz blinks in surprise, then sighs. “Please tell me the tracker’s not implanted somewhere.”

“Of course not, Ms. Parker,” Coulson says with a bland smile and Liz laughs, the strain of the conversation she just finished lifting in the face of the Agent’s perpetual calm. “I wanted to speak with you, if you wouldn’t mind.” He glances at Tony and Bruce. “I’ll escort her back to the tower, if you don’t have any plans I’m interrupting.”

“Like that would stop you,” Tony says, former levels of snark resumed as he grins up at Coulson. “Bring her back in one piece, I need her for science, and don’t forget that good boys and girls use foreplay.”

Liz chokes and Tony’s grin widens. Bruce shakes his head and stands up. “Come on Tony, Pepper needs you for that meeting and I don’t want to explain why you got stuck in a SHIELD detention cell for harassment.”

Tony gives a combination pout-smirk that Liz is sure he has used to great effect many times in his life, but follows Bruce after giving her and Coulson one last salacious wink. Liz laughs and rises to her feet, turning to look at Coulson, who’s looking back at her with the faintest hint of amusement in his eyes.

“They don’t pay you enough, do they?” she asks as he begins to walk down the path in the opposite direction and she matches his stride.

“There isn’t enough money in the world, Ms. Parker,” he answers her dryly and she laughs again.

“Guess not. And please call me Liz.”

“Very well, Liz, I wanted to thank you, and to apologize,” he says, tone still formal despite the change of address.

“You’re welcome, and apologize for what?” Liz asks, her voice deliberately casual. She isn’t sure how she feels about being thanked for using her powers, but she knows it would be incredibly rude and selfish of her to let him see her discomfort.

He doesn’t reply immediately and she glances over and sees him looking at her with mingled embarrassment and apology. “I’m sure Stark’s discovered by now why you weren’t in the files we gave the others, something we’ll have to speak about later.”

Liz nods, her muscles tightening up again at the reminder of the FBI’s continued determination to keep her looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life.

“But you should have been briefed about the situation and the failure to do so was entirely my fault,” he continues. “I was, distracted, but that is no excuse, and it is entirely to your credit that you performed so admirably despite that initial handicap.”

Liz remembers the flight to New York, during which Coulson had been glued to the computer and his ear piece, carrying on multiple conversations she only caught the edges of but knew were important, and his carefully concealed eagerness when they picked up Steve, who was given a file that she’s guessing, now, was supposed to be shared.

“It’s not an excuse, but it is a reason,” she says after a moment, and smiles at him. “And honestly? Things turned out pretty damn well, so you have my forgiveness if you want it, but I’m not upset. I wasn’t even upset then, not really, mostly just confused and overwhelmed and I don’t think all the briefings in the world could have helped that.”

He chuckles, a dryer sound than even Bruce’s little laughs. “No, they probably wouldn’t have. But thank you for your forgiveness all the same, and I promise not to leave you in the dark in the future unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Liz’s smile takes on a tinge of cynicism, but she nods, accepting the truth in his words, and remembering that she now lives with Tony Stark, who lives to break rules and find out information he’s not supposed to have. SHIELD will hoard its secrets and Tony will find them and they’ll all learn to deal.

She wonders if this sort of dilemma and compromise is something most people deal with when they ‘grow up’.

“You won’t get any powers, by the way, in case you were worried about that,” she says abruptly, dragging herself out of her thoughts as they step out of the park onto the sidewalk less than a block away from the Tower. “Also, I am envious of your internal map.”

Coulson smirks at her. “I wasn’t, worried, and you should be. I never get lost.”

Liz laughs and then sighs. “My town could fit practically fit into the Tower; I’m going to get lost at least once a week.” She shrugs as they stop in front of the giant structure. “It’ll be a good learning experience. You coming in?”

Coulson shakes his head. “Not this time, but I’ll be by for another conversation soon, and with more paperwork.”

Her answering groan isn’t remotely exaggerated and she pouts at him. “My hand is still tired. Paperwork is evil.”

“And you don’t have nearly as much of it as I do, so pardon my lack of sympathy,” he responds heartlessly, then turns on his heel. “Try not to let Stark and Banner blow anything up,” he calls over his shoulder, probably his version of a fond farewell, and Liz sighs despondently, then frowns as she walks into the building.

He clearly overestimates her responsible side. If there’s explosions to be had, she will be a gleeful participant, not a referee.

Right now though mostly all she wants is sleep, exhaustion swamping her in a wave as she leans against a wall in the elevator and stares blankly at the buttons.

“Would you like to see the room Sir has set aside for you while the residential floors are being renovated?” Jarvis asks her after a moment and Liz barely jumps, then nods.

“Yes please, that would be wonderful.”

The elevator glides upwards in response and she closes her eyes with a faint smile. She never could have imagined that things would turn out like this. She honestly had thought there were only two possible outcomes to her life: one in which she was eventually killed because of an alien saving her life when she was sixteen, or one in which she pretended to be normal, became a brilliant scientist, and spent her life as close to Maria and Kyle as possible.

But this, this having her cake and eating it too, even if there is a razor blade she needs to avoid in every bite, well, she’s not sure that metaphor makes sense, but she is sure that she could never have predicted or planned for this turn of events.

Of course, as Kyle and Maria have been telling her for years (as if the alien abyss hadn't already taught her that lesson the hard way), sometimes you can't plan for everything, and sometimes (only sometimes) that's the fun (terrifying) part.

The elevator stops and she opens her eyes as she steps out in the hall of the highest floor of the tower that wasn’t damaged in the attack, two floors above Bruce’s lab.

“Your room is the third door on the left,” Jarvis tells her, and she smiles up at the ceiling where she guesses his primary cameras are.

“Thanks Jarvis.”

“You’re welcome, Ms. Parker,” he replies, and Liz wonders briefly if Tony programmed him to be so polite, or if the AI decided to be so on his own, an antidote to his creator’s utter indifference to social niceties.

She stops in front of the third door and smiles again as it opens on its own. She hopes she never stops being awed by how amazing this Tower is, and how amazing everything Tony’s created seems to be.

That thought triggers a spiral of others and she collapses onto the bed in the middle of the room, blind to everything else, as she frowns at the ceiling. “Jarvis? Can I ask you some questions?”

“Of course, Ms. Parker; I will answer to the best of my abilities,” he replies promptly and she nods slowly as she wonders how to phrase the thoughts bouncing around her head like ricocheting billiard balls with intersecting trajectories and impossible angles.

“Why, why is Tony doing this? Why is he moving all of us into his tower and giving us floors and-” she cuts herself off, remembering Bruce’s earlier words, and continues in a softer tone, “I don’t want to take advantage of him, of his generosity.”

There is a brief pause, and then Jarvis speaks, his voice gentle. “You are not taking advantage, Ms. Parker, Sir genuinely wants you here, all of you. As for why,” he makes a thoughtful hmming noise and Liz shoves down another minor freak-out over how impressive he is.

Fully sentient AI. Holy fuck she is living in the future and god damn is it amazing.

“I believe you are the one who said he ‘does not do anything by halves,” he continues, amusement coloring his tone, and Liz chuckles.

“Yeah, I did. So this is what, an Avengers thing?”

“Yes, at least in part. I do not know everything he is thinking, but I know that once Sir commits himself to something, he does so with his entire being, and he has committed himself to the Avengers.”

Liz nods, thinking this over, thinking of the moment in battle when everything else fell away and they united to fight the enemy. And thinking of all the moments after, the quieter, softer moments, in which they continued to watch out for each other while SHIELD dissected everything that happened and the media frenzy began.

“What are his plans, with the renovations?” she asks curiously, holding back further questions about Tony himself as she does not want to further invade what privacy he manages to maintain in a world where he’s been in the spotlight since birth, nor does she think Jarvis will let her.

“He and Pepper will retain the penthouse suite. The next floor down he intends to create suites for Doctor Banner and Captain Rogers. Then a floor for you and Ms. Lewis, below that would be Thor and Dr. Foster, and finally a floor for Agents Romanov and Barton. Assuming everyone agrees to move in, of course.”

“Of course,” Liz agrees faintly, once again feeling dizzy as the sheer improbability of her life washes over her. “I’m just an intern,” she says with a disbelieving laugh. “Darcy and I would be fine on Jane’s floor.”

“You are an Avenger, Ms. Parker,” he reminds her, tone gentle again. “And, as Sir has seen your SHIELD file, I believe that he thought you would be the one most likely to have guests.”

Liz blinks at that, and then swallows against a throat gone tight as she remembers Bruce saying he didn’t have anyone to call. Steve wouldn’t either; everyone he loved, everyone he even knew, had died, war or age, while he slept beneath the ice. Everyone Thor knew on the whole planet would already be in the Tower other than Erik, still being debriefed by SHIELD, and she has a feeling that Natasha and Clint only have each other, and maybe Coulson. And Tony, well, Tony has Pepper, and now he has them.

But her? She has Ava and Maria and Kyle and her parents and the Sheriff. She has family, and she has never felt so grateful or so lucky to have them.

Her family isn’t blood, not mostly, it’s friendship and spilled blood and loss and shared moments of joy and the kind of love that comes when you trust someone with your life and want nothing more than their survival and happiness.

Which means it isn’t limited to existing members, and she’s never met anyone more in need of a family than the people who make up her team. (Still weird; still good.)

“I don’t do anything by halves either so we’re not just going to build a team, Jarvis,” she says firmly, knowing he’s still listening, “We’re going to build a family.”

There’s a silence that manages to be thoughtful, despite Jarvis’ lack of body language to give her cues. “Do let me know if you need assistance, Ms. Parker,” he finally says, and Liz grins, knowing she has his approval.

“I will Jarvis, I will,” she promises, and then closes her eyes, no longer feeling quite so exhausted, as she begins to make a plan.

Liz has always been good at making plans.

A/N: So I haven't forgotten Rhodey, but Liz doesn't know about him which is why he isn't mentioned in her list of people whom Tony has. But he will be in this fic. I have plans for Rhodey, *cackles*.

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter 6 ~ 7/

Post by Whimsicality » Wed Jul 31, 2013 9:09 pm

Feedback: Thank you all very much for your feedback, sorry for the lack of individual responses and the later than usual posting. Life's been a bit busy lately and I am super tired right now. But have no fear, the next chapter's already done and I'm working on chapter ten :D

A/N: There are links in this chapter you can actually click on to see the documents that Liz is looking at. I did not create them; they were produced as promotional material by the show when it was on air. The official website that hosted them has since been taken down but the lovely RoswellOracle saved everything and now it hosts it on her fantastic Roswell Archive site.

Also, the documents will reflect the original show timeline which had the shooting in 1999. I bumped everything up by five years to mesh with the MCU timeline so in my fic the shooting occurred in 2004.

and you’ve got your demons, and, darling, they all look like me
(In which the FBI (among others) should be afraid and Liz falls in love.)

Liz doesn’t end up napping, but she does remain in her room for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet. Tony has his meeting and she knows Bruce hasn’t been alone since they brought him in from Calcutta, all of them stuck in each other’s or SHIELD’s pockets since before the battle, so he’s probably also in need of some space.

Not that she, or Tony she suspects, intends to let him get used to being alone again, but an afternoon of solitude is probably good for all of them.

She discovers that her laptop has been delivered to her room while she was gone and boots it up, grinning at the picture of Tony giving her finger guns that has been made the wallpaper of the main screen. She opens the browser and checks her e-mail, grimacing at the excessively large number of unread missives from friends, family, Brown, the University of Tromsø, and various mailing lists she’s a part of.

She spends the next twenty minutes deleting what she can and sorting the rest in order of priority, then steels herself and clicks compose. She types in her parents’ e-mail address and puts ‘Hello :)’ in the subject line and then spends approximately five minutes staring at the blank white space below it with a mixture of panic and calculation.

Finally she takes a breath and begins to type. She asks if they’ve seen the news about New York and tells them that a colleague of Jane’s has asked for her help in working on the scientific implications of the aftermath, and that Liz might accompany her to New York and finish her schooling there.

It’s a believable lie, Jane is an astrophysicist and a damn good one, with just enough truth in it that if and when she eventually tells them the actual truth, she won’t have to explain additional deception.

She wraps it up with some well wishes and clicks send with a feeling of mingled relief and dread, knowing that she has only postponed the inevitable and that she’s only going to be able to delay a more honest conversation with them for so long.

After a moment of frowning at the rest of her e-mails, she closes the browser and decides she’s earned another day of procrastination.

On the desktop her eyes catch on another icon, shaped like a book, and she laughs as she reads the text below it: ‘The Unauthorized Biography of Liz Parker, Alien Magnet, by SHIELD.’

She double clicks on the icon which turns out to be a very full file folder and doesn’t feel like laughing anymore. There are hundreds of files, some dating all the way back to 1947, and others as recent as three days ago, and she feels nauseous as she stares at secrets that people have tortured and killed and died for, all laid out in neat rows of black and white on her computer screen.

The first file in the folder is titled ‘Me first!’, and Liz opens it with the ghost of a smile, sensing Tony at work. She’s right.

Some of the files are ones SHIELD got from the FBI and they have that ugly black redacted shit all over them. SHIELD doesn’t have the full versions, but if you want them, just say the word and the FBI database will fall before me. Also, how easy would it be for me to convince you to be the bait in a yet-to-be-designed alien trap? Because you are apparently catnip to extraterrestrials and that’s a gift that needs to exploited for science and profit.

Liz’s smile grows for a moment before dying again as she closes the note and stares at the list of documents in front of her, some of which would have been damn useful at various points in her life and others she wishes had never existed. Where should she even start?

She skims the first few rows, most centered around the original crash and probably taken from various military and intelligence databases, and opens one at random. It’s a DOD document, discussing fatalities at the crash site and she reads it with a mixture of fascination and horror, wondering if it was Nasedo who’d killed the two Privates, or someone else, maybe the alien that Pierce had casually admitted to the Unit torturing and killing.

The glowing ‘mushroom’ shaped objects referenced instantly intrigue her, and she wonders if they were the pods, or something else, something the government still has stashed away somewhere, maybe in the redacted research lab.

Closing the document, she hopes Tony doesn’t get in too much trouble when she asks him to hack the FBI. If he does, she and the others will have to rescue him, and that’ll probably kill all of the good publicity they earned in saving New York.

She scrolls down, skimming through the years of what seems to largely be potential sightings and reports of agents killed by Nasedo, until she reaches 2004 and the year a bullet entered her rib cage and changed the course of her life.

There’s a sudden surge in the number of files, exceeding the number created by the original crash, and she feels nauseous again. She clicks on the document labeled ‘Sheriff’s Report: Shooting at Crashdown’ with shaking fingers and sees Jim’s familiar terrible handwriting detailing the bare basics of the incident. The reference to Max at the bottom triggers a rush of memories – days of terror and confusion when the Sheriff was the enemy and Liz couldn’t understand why her boyfriend’s father was so determined to hunt down the boy who’d saved her life instead of the man who’d shot her.

She swallows bile at the thought of what that report led to and moves on. There are dozens of files, many with all too familiar names including her own, but she doesn’t click on them, not sure she’s ready to know what they say. One file, centered in the cluster from 2005 after the Hubble shooting and before Max’s capture (files she knows she’ll never be able to read), sends a chill down her spine.

She clicks on ‘Hit List’ and feels the blood drain from her face as she reads the terse document Pierce sent to his agents. ‘Detainment preferable. Elimination acceptable only if no other options are presented.’ She wants to vomit.

They were children. Clueless, terrified, children, who just wanted to be left alone.

She closes the document and carefully sets the laptop down on the bed next to her before burying her head in her knees and trying to breathe. She’s not having a panic attack – fear is not the emotion she’s feeling right now. Instead she feels so angry it makes her sick, her hands shaking as lightning flickers beneath her skin.

How dare they. How dare they follow them and plan to hurt them, just because they think they might know about aliens. How dare they capture and torture Max, whose only crime was caring more about other people’s lives than his own.

She’s no longer sure if she should ask Tony to investigate the FBI and the people still after her, because she’s not sure she’ll be able to stop herself from ruthlessly slaughtering each and every one of them if he does.

Maria’s name was on that list. What if Maria’s name is still on a list, somewhere? Maria was never healed, Maria never changed, and she has no protection against men with guns.

Liz breathes slowly, in and out, in and out, until her heart rate has decreased and she no longer feels the urge to strangle FBI agents with her bare hands. Once she’s calmed, she sits back up and pulls the laptop back into her lap, staring grimly at the rows of files.

Knowledge is power.

Two hours later, a faint chiming noise pulls her attention away from a SHIELD analysis of the dissolution of the Special Unit and she blinks in confusion, wondering where the sound came from.

“Ms. Potts is here to see you,” Jarvis informs her and Liz brightens, forcibly dispelling all of the dark thoughts she’s been collecting since she started reading.

“Thank you, Jarvis. Let her in, please,” she says, setting the laptop down on the bed and scooting to the edge so she can stand up.

She rises to her feet as Pepper sweeps into the room, looking stunningly imperial, and suddenly feels woefully under-dressed in her jeans and the plain black SHIELD issue t-shirt that are all she has until Jane and the others arrive with her stuff.

Pepper stares at her for a moment, her expression entirely unreadable, and a hello dies on Liz’s tongue as she wonders if she’s about to be fired or murdered or utterly removed from existence.

“Do you like shoes?” Pepper asks suddenly, and Liz almost flinches at the unexpected words, then nods slowly.

“Um, yes. I don’t buy them very often, student budget and all, but I do enjoy shoes,” she stammers out, feeling far more intimidated than she had when facing an entire alien army.

“Good,” Pepper says with a decisive nod. “Put some on; we’re going shopping.” Her gaze sweeps around the room and she frowns slightly. “Possibly for more than shoes.”

Liz blinks, then nods again. She is not going to argue with Pepper Potts if she wants to take Liz shopping. No sir. She will follow along with all the eagerness of a loyal puppy to anywhere Pepper wishes to take her.

She slips on the combat boots that she’d used her powers to clean and repair after the battle and steps closer to Pepper, still vaguely concerned that she might be ‘disappeared’ as the other woman has yet to smile.

Instead of suddenly pulling out a gun, however, Pepper wraps her arms around Liz and squeezes, hard, then pulls away as single tear makes its way down her cheek, her blue eyes glowing and her lips curved into a fragile, breathtaking smile. “Thank you,” she says, her voice strong and unwavering as she lets go of Liz. “Thank you for Tony.”

Liz’s eyes widen in realization and she smiles back, her own eyes suddenly burning with the urge to cry which she fiercely resists. “You’re welcome. He’s going to say yes then?”

Pepper nods and laughs, a soft, slightly jagged sound. “Yes. He just needs time to...” she hesitates and Liz interrupts.


Pepper laughs again, warmer this time. “I was going to say drink and pretend he’s not freaking out and design at least three new inventions, but process works too.”

Liz grins. “That does sound more like Tony.”

Pepper nods, still smiling, and then arches an eyebrow. “Ready? Because we are still going shopping. And to dinner, but for that we’ll kidnap the boys.”

“Uh, yeah. Let’s do this,” Liz says, her voice gaining confidence near the end.

“We’re going to make salespeople beg for mercy, and then we’re going to make the boys drool when we drag them out of the lab and force them into normal social interaction,” Pepper tells her with a dangerous grin as she slips her arm through Liz’s and gracefully guides her out the door.

Liz chokes on another laugh, suddenly wondering just what she’s gotten herself into, but knows it’s far too late to back out. Pepper could make Fury back down; she is more than capable of getting Liz to do anything she wants.

It turns out, to Liz’s utter lack of surprise, that Pepper is capable of getting anyone to do anything she wants, and hapless retail employees tremble in her wake as the redhead steers her through store after high class boutique after fancy coffee shop, collecting bags and devoted admirers with equal ease.

Liz counts herself among the latter, and is pretty sure she actually proposed at one point. Pepper laughed at her and laid a fond hand on her cheek before turning away to demand another pair of lethal high heels. “Sorry, darling, but I’ve already got a superhero scientist, and he takes up all my free time.”

Hours pass in a blur of outfits and accessories that Liz is pretty sure cost more than the gross domestic product of certain small countries. She is hyped on caffeine, shopping, and Pepper, when they finally collapse in the limo for the drive back to the tower. “Holy crap. I was wrong. Bruce shouldn’t bottle Tony, he should bottle you. And then charge a billion dollars a bottle and watch as megalomaniacs fight for a chance at your magnificence.”

Pepper laughs again, and shakes her head. “Tony would purchase every bottle, bankrupt himself, and then build an even larger fortune while the world cowered at his feet.”

Liz grins. “I wonder how many contingency plans Tony found in the SHIELD files for him going super villain.”

“It doesn’t matter how many they have, they’d never be prepared enough,” Pepper says with dry certainty and Liz giggles, nodding her agreement.

When they arrive, Happy follows them into the Tower with all their bags and Pepper takes Liz to her and Tony’s suite, on the other half of the floor Liz is staying on (turns out Bruce is next door to her room and Liz spares an idle thought toward his small bag of clothes and what that implies about his choice of sleeping attire with nary a blush. She has seen him naked after all, Hulk isn’t good with clothes.)

After sending Happy off to find the boys and instruct them to put on the clothing Pepper purchased for them, Pepper pulls a crimson dress out of one of the bags, and a set of matching black lace underthings, and shoos her toward the shower.

Liz obeys without question and enjoys the pomegranate scented soap she finds. The dress hugs her slight curves and reaches below her right knee, the bottom cut at an angle. The neck is fairly high, but the back is a daring plunge that makes her glad she’s been growing her hair out ever since an ill-advised chop freshman year at Brown.

When she wanders back out into the main room, Pepper is already dressed in a stunning gold strapless gown that makes Liz have to bite back another, more inappropriate, proposal. “You look amazing,” she says instead, and then submits to Pepper’s fussing as she takes over Liz’s hair and face.

“It’s nice to dress up a girl for a change,” Pepper muses when she takes a step back to admire the concoction of loose curls she’s created. “Although there was that one charity ball that Tony dressed in drag for; that was fun.”

“Please tell me there are pictures,” Liz begs as she turns around and watches Pepper put on her jewelry.

“Of course,” Pepper tells her with a smirk, “Tony posed for a magazine that was covering the event.”

“I think I’m falling in love with your boyfriend,” Liz tells her seriously, then winks, “But I’ll always love you more.”

“What’s this? Trying to steal my girlfriend are you?” Tony asks, barging into the room with a grin, still wearing an oil stained t-shirt and jeans. “I mean, I’m cool with it, as long as I get to watch.”

Pepper frowns at him, a glint of affectionate amusement in her eyes. “You were supposed to change with Bruce and not see us until we’re done.”

He pouts at her. “But I like watching you get ready.”

Liz laughs and shakes her head. “I’m going to go find Bruce.”

Tony grins at her and cocks his head to the side with a leer. “Not interested in watching, eh Parker?”

“I’m more of a doer than a watcher,” Liz replies blandly, then waves at a smirking Pepper and fills her arms with bags. When she glances back before stepping out the door, Pepper is fending Tony and his grimy hands off with a practiced glare and Liz grins again, feeling a little warm and fuzzy that they’re letting her see this intimate, utterly human side of them.

She drops her bags off in her room, piling them on the bed, and chooses not to think about the cost of some of the fabrics now crumpled possibly beyond repair. Well, beyond the repair of someone who doesn’t have her magic fingers. Sorting through the shoe boxes she finds the pair she and Pepper negotiated on heel length over and slips them on, enjoying the extra three and a half inches of height. Pepper wanted to get her into six inch monstrosities, but Liz was pretty sure she’d kill herself and had told Pepper that Liz wasn’t at Pepper’s BAMF level yet so please go easy on her.

Pepper had grinned and murmured something about practice and Liz hadn’t needed visions to foresee future shopping trips. Other than the occasional trip with Maria, Liz has never been a big shopper, especially once she discovered exactly how Isabel maintained her flawless appearance -- it’s not just her scientist side that appreciates the enormity of her abilities. But shopping with Pepper? She will never not enjoy that.

The shoes Pepper picked out are black peeptoes, with bottoms as red as her dress, and she feels unbelievably elegant as she strides out of her room to Bruce’s door and knocks. Darcy is going to wet herself in envy.

Bruce answers after a moment, fumbling with his suit jacket, and then stops moving and stares at her long enough for Liz’s face to flush with a mixture of embarrassment and pride.

He coughs and looks down, then back up, a hint of red staining his cheeks. “Sorry. It’s just been a while since a woman who looks like that has planned to go to dinner with me.”

Liz grins. “It’s okay, I’m pretty sure I’ve never looked like this before.” He chuckles and she dares to reach forward and adjust his collar. “And you are looking quite dapper yourself, Doctor Banner.”

He looks surprised and shifts his feet before falling still as she settles his jacket properly. “Thank you,” he replies when she pulls away, flush fading into a more relaxed smile. “Do you know where we’re going?”

She shakes her head as she takes another step back so he can join her in the hallway. “No clue. This is the Pepper and Tony show and I am just an innocent civilian along for the ride.”

“I think that applies to our lives in general now,” Bruce says with a wry twist of his lips and Liz gives a combination laugh/sigh as they walk back in the direction of Tony and Pepper’s rooms.

“Yeah... Remember that curse? It is definitely still in effect. But I have resigned myself to it and intend to enjoy the roller-coaster until its inevitable fiery crash.”

Bruce chuckles and Tony pops his head into the hallway. “Did I hear someone mention roller coasters and fire? Because that sounds like an awesome combination.”

“You are not allowed to create a theme park, Tony,” Pepper says with a stern voice that indicates she’s had to say this many times before. “There isn’t an insurance company in the world that would cover you.”

Tony pouts as he follows her into the hallway. “You never let me have any fun, Potts.”

She smirks and leans down to whisper in his ear, Liz laughs and Bruce looks away with an awkward grin as Tony’s eyes go wide.

“I take it back; you are officially the most fun human being on the planet.”

Pepper smiles in acknowledgement of this true fact and then tucks her arm into the crook of Tony’s elbow, the two of them a beautiful sight. “Shall we, Liz, Bruce?” she asks, and they both nod, Bruce hesitating for a moment before offering Liz his arm.

Liz takes it and holds in a regretful sigh at what the Liz from three years ago would say to Bruce and his adorable curls. She hasn’t been intimate with someone in far too long, but the lure of casual sex had worn off even before she’d eliminated her social life during her fourth year at Brown. Seeing what Tony and Pepper have has only intensified that fact, and she feels a wistful thread of desire for a relationship like theirs. And something a hell of a lot more healthy than her last long-term relationship, with a boy who, through little fault of his own, was never able to treat her like the partner she deserved to be.

Pushing down her libido and her loneliness, neither of which have any place here, in this perfect shining moment of friendships to build, she smiles over her shoulder at Pepper as they walk down the hall. “So where are we eating? I’m assuming we’re not going to a hot dog stand dressed like this, although I am not at all averse to the idea.”

Tony grins, looking suddenly delighted, and Pepper shakes her head with a knowing chuckle. “No. We are not going to a hot dog stand. We’re going to Junoon’s. I thought Dr. Banner might enjoy some Indian food.”

Bruce looks surprised and pleased as they step into the elevator and Liz smiles to herself. Clearly she and Tony aren’t the only ones who intend to give Bruce reasons to stay.

The limo ride to the restaurant is filled with banter and Pepper subtly minimizing Tony’s alcohol intake, an endeavor Tony is well aware of. The games they play are clearly well practiced as Tony grins at his girlfriend with bright eyes full of wonder and love when he thinks she’s not looking. (She knows though, and she returns the favor when he is looking, a dance that makes Liz deeply happy for both of them, and envious, emotions she thinks Bruce shares based on his small fidgets on the seat beside her.)

When they arrive, they are quickly whisked to a private table while Liz examines their surroundings with awe. Beautifully carved woodwork, rich browns and reds, and gold dishes make it clear that Liz has never been a restaurant this high class. Bruce looks similarly overwhelmed and Liz squeezes his arm, leaning over to whisper in his ear, “Just remember, we’re here with Tony. If either of us embarrasses ourselves, he will thoroughly enjoy making a scene and everyone will forget all about it.”

Bruce chuckles, relaxing beneath her fingers, then lets her arm go as they reach the table. Liz takes the chair that leaves her back to the restaurant, suspecting Bruce prefers to be able to see people approaching. (She does too, for that matter, but she has a few advantages in that department.) She sees Pepper doing the same and feels a brief surge of anger and grief for all of the people who taught them such paranoia.

She banishes the negative emotions and shakes her head as Tony tries to order her a drink. “I don’t drink alcohol; water will be fine, thank you.”

Tony waits for the server to leave and then arches an eyebrow at her. “Is it a religious thing? Or did you party hard at college and now you’re detoxing your liver?”

Liz laughs. “No, it’s an alien altered physiology doesn’t react well to alcohol thing.”

“Is it toxic for you?” Bruce asks curiously and Liz shakes her head.

“No. But one sip hits like me a full bottle of vodka and a couple tabs of ecstasy.” Tony grins and she frowns at him. “Trust me, not a good idea. I’m pretty sure Fury will murder us if there’s a sudden report of a glowing restaurant and indoor fireworks this soon after the invasion.”

Tony makes a hmming noise and Pepper lays a repressive hand on his arm. “Don’t worry, no one will be trying to get you drunk,” she assures Liz. “Now, Bruce, any recommendations?”

“Uh,” Bruce says, glancing down at the menu. “I’ve had Piri-Piri shrimp before and it was delicious. Fish was very popular in Calcutta. Also, the coconut rice pudding is a favorite.” He looks up with a faint smile. “I have a bit of a sweet tooth.”

“I’m going to remember that,” Liz says with a gentle smirk. “For when I need to lure you out of the lab.”

Bruce ducks his chin, a smile playing at the edges of his mouth and Liz turns to grin at Tony and Pepper. “Nothing but caffeine works for Jane, and sometimes a cattle prod.”

Pepper smiles wryly. “A cattle prod would work for Tony, if he wasn’t surrounded by far superior technology at all times. It’s gotten a lot easier to wrangle him since sex has become part of the equation.”

“Why Pepper, I’m hurt that you would manipulate my baser instincts like that,” Tony says, eyes dancing, and Pepper laughs at him.

“No you’re not; it turns you on.”

Tony opens his mouth and Liz can practically feel the relief in the air as the server’s return interrupts him. They place their orders and after the server leaves again, Liz clears her throat, glancing between Tony and Pepper.

“I want to help, with the destruction and everything,” she says quietly, remembering every scene of devastation she’d seen that morning on the walk to the park and back. “There’s got to be something we, I, can do?”

“We are,” Tony says in a flippant tone that Liz in no way believes is anything but a shield for his real emotions. “Well, I am. I’m paying for half of the cost of reconstruction and I guilted the other billionaires in the district into covering the other half. That’s what the meeting with the mayor was all about.”

“You guilted them?” Pepper asks archly and Tony acknowledges her with a wink.

“I’m sorry, we guilted them.”

“Just for the publicity, right?” Bruce says in slyly teasing tone, his eyes directing the same warm approval at Tony that he had at Liz in the park earlier.

“Of course,” Tony says with a careless arm wave. “Between this and the whole saving New York thing, sales of Stark tech are going to be through the roof.”

“Cause you’re just a heartless bastard,” Liz murmurs, toasting him with her water glass as Pepper chuckles and Tony grins widely.

“Damn straight. Now where’s our food, I’m starving and Pepper promised me dessert later.”

Liz laughs softly and files her thoughts away for later. There are hundreds of volunteer units in the city doing various tasks, and she’d still like to do her part to help.

The food arrives shortly after, along with a second bottle of wine, and the conversation flows easily. When they finish, Liz joins Bruce in ordering the coconut rice pudding while Tony and Pepper both order the spiced chocolate cake.

“Did he hug you?” Tony asks out of nowhere while Liz’s mouth is full of delicious pudding - she’s definitely thanking Bruce for the recommendation later.

Liz swallows and blinks at him. “Did who hug me?”

“Bruce,” Tony says with a wave at the other man, who lowers his gaze to stare intently at his food. “He texted me, all panicked about your little human moment in the hallway and if he should do something. I told him to give you booze or love, and since apparently booze isn’t an option with you, I figure he went with love.” Tony waggles his eyebrows. “So, hug? Or did he try a more... thorough approach.”

Bruce still won’t look up, his fingers tense on his silverware, and Liz stares at him for a moment before directing a glare that’s only half-tease at Tony. “He wisely left me to handle my emotions on my own. Clearly he should be the one giving you advice on handling distressed individuals.”

Tony grins roguishly at her. “Come on, who doesn’t want a hug from Bruce?

Liz fights her answering smile, carefully shoving down the part of her that would very much enjoy a hug from Bruce, and continues to frown at him, although less severely. “No pimping out your friends, Tony; I think we should make that an official Avengers rule.”

“Hmph,” Tony answers her with a speculative glance. “I could make a lot of money for the reconstruction if I sold dates with the Avengers.”

“It’s a nice thought, but no,” Bruce says, finally raising his head. “And somehow I don’t think you could sell anyone on a date with the other guy.”

Liz frowns again, this time at Bruce’s self-deprecating tone. “I disagree with that assessment.” Bruce blinks at her with a faint smile and she smiles back before shooting a quelling glance at Tony, who at the moment is reminding her very much of her Aunt Bianca when in a matchmaking mood. “But no selling of anyone.”

“Agreed,” Pepper says with a fond but stern glance at Tony. “We should probably work out a whole list of rules, once everyone moves in.”

“And there you go, ruining my fun again Potts,” Tony says with an exaggerated sigh.

“I think rules sound like an excellent idea,” Bruce says calmly, a hint of a smirk on his face as he looks at Tony briefly.

“Traitor,” Tony hisses, his eyes gleaming, and Liz laughs.

“I had rules for my dorm room. I think some of them would be very appropriate for the Tower, like: ‘Insults must be balanced by compliments’, and, ‘If you make a mess, clean it up’.”

Tony leans back in his chair and makes a face. “That sounds horrific.”

“Another one was ‘Don’t argue with Liz’,” she says with a smirk.

Pepper laughs and grins at her. “I think that, with some modification, those rules will do quite nicely.”

“You’re all evil,” Tony declares, throwing up his hands. “Taking over my tower, trying to establish rules. I’ll sic SHIELD on you.”

“Somehow I think they’ll be on our side,” Bruce says dryly, a hint of darkness flickering in his eyes. “They like rules.”

“And we don’t trust them, do we?” Tony says lightly. “Rules equal bad things.”

Liz smiles at his tone, but silently contemplates the files on her laptop, and the nuke that almost killed New York. “You know? I thought I was done with conspiracies at eighteen. Wishful thinking I guess.”

“Do you spill your life story on the second date?” Tony asks her with a grin. “Although if we throw in Shawarma, and hot dogs, this is more like the fourth date.”

Thinking for a moment, of teams and families and plans, Liz shrugs. “Sure, not here though.”

“There’s better booze at our place anyway,” Tony says with a wink as Pepper signals for the check. “And while you might not be able to partake, I definitely want more alcohol for this conversation.”

Liz sighs wistfully. “I do miss getting drunk, and no,” she says with a pointed frown at Tony, “that is not an invitation.”

“I wasn’t a big fan of drinking before the accident,” Bruce says before Tony can speak, “and now control is more important than ever.” He turns to Tony with that little half-smile. “I do enjoy a glass of good scotch though, if you have some.”

If I have some? Bruce, you wound me with your doubt. I have the best scotch. I have all the best booze. I am a goddamned booze connoisseur.”

“Yes you are, and that fact regularly spikes my blood pressure,” Pepper interjects, having paid for their meal and risen to her feet while the rest of them were conversing. “Happy’s waiting with the car, shall we?”

Tony bounces to his feet and Liz and Bruce follow more sedately, all of them following Pepper out of the restaurant. Liz can’t help but be reminded of ducklings and grins, once again wishing she could draw.

She barely registers the ride back to the tower, wondering what she should and shouldn’t say to these people, these friends, whose lives have been no less interesting than hers. She tunes back in when Bruce offers her his hand to help her out of the car and smiles up at him, glad more than she can say that he doesn’t hesitate to touch her despite knowing that she has the power to see inside him if he does.

“So, any other particular sweets you’re fond of?” she asks teasingly as they follow Pepper and Tony in through the private entrance to the Tower.

His eyes twinkle and his lips quirk up. “You’re a scientist; I think I’ll let you figure it you.”

She grins delightedly. “I do enjoy challenges.”

His smile widens before he looks away and she continues to grin, feeling pleased, only to see Tony watching them with a devious smirk. She narrows her eyes at him, wishing she had true telepathy and could tell him to keep his nose out of it, however futile such a warning might be.

He doesn’t speak though, and the elevator ride is spent discussing the merits of various brands and years of alcohol. When they arrive at their floor, Tony guides them to a lounge area between the rooms and quickly makes himself at home in the bar area while the rest of them claim seats.

Liz selects one end of a ridiculously comfortable chocolate leather sofa and kicks off her shoes with a sigh. “I admire your ability to wear those all day without killing anyone,” she tells Pepper, who has curled up on the matching loveseat.

Pepper smiles. “If being Tony’s PA didn’t drive me to murder, a pair of Louboutins certainly won’t.”

Bruce, sitting somewhat stiffly on the other end of the couch Liz claimed, raises an eyebrow. “Not one body hiding in a closet somewhere?” he asks, eyes crinkling, and Pepper laughs.

“If there is, I’ll never tell.”

Tony waltzes over and hands her a glass, dropping a kiss on her temple. “Pepper’s the one SHIELD should be worried about. If I go evil, it’ll be loud and messy; Pepper though, we’ll just wake up one day and the world will have willingly surrendered.”

“If you need a lackey in your quest for world domination, I have some very useful skills,” Liz tells her seriously and Tony shakes his finger at her while Pepper shoots her a wink from behind him.

“Now, now, if Pepper becomes our Rightful Lord and Master, I get to be head lackey. You can be the lackey to the lackey.”

“Deal, as long as it comes with dental,” Liz says, still straight faced, and Tony nods as he heads back to the bar, returning a moment later with a drink for Bruce, who admires the color before taking a sip.

“Of course! All minions receive full health benefits and a clothing stipend, only fair given that they’re expected to take a bullet for us,” Tony says, then glances at her. “If you insist on sticking with the no booze thing, there’s juice, soda, and various other mixers. I can make you a virgin something or other,” he adds, nose wrinkling on virgin like its a bad word and Liz chuckles.

“Orange juice would be lovely,” she tells him, grinning as he rolls his eyes.

“So boring,” he says with clear disdain, but returns to the bar and pours her some juice without protest, walking back a moment later with her glass and one full of something a lot stronger for him. He hands her the juice and then sprawls next to Pepper, his head in her lap and his feet dangling over the edge of the loveseat.

“Now, story time!” he says, tilting his head to grin at her before taking a dangerously close to upside down drink from his glass, a move he’s clearly done before as not a single drop spills. “I want to hear all about how you turned into Sparky, the little scientist that saved the world.”

Liz snorts and shifts in her seat, tucking her feet under the cushion between her and Bruce as she structures the ‘story’ in her mind. “I’d tell you it’s not that interesting of a story, but it’d be a lie,” she says dryly, taking a sip of her orange juice and then arching a taunting eyebrow at him when he flaps his free hand at her impatiently before Pepper captures it and laces their fingers together.

Smile fading, Liz lowers her glass into her lap and begins. “Okay. So, I grew up in Roswell, alien capital of the world. My parents own the Crashdown Cafe, which is exactly as cheesy as it sounds, and I lived above it and worked there as a waitress.”

She can practically see the effort it is taking Tony to hold in an endless stream of mocking taunts and she chuckles, winking at him before continuing. “When I was sixteen, I was shot while working. A stupid argument and one of them had a gun and I didn’t duck.”

Tony no longer looks amused and the other two are watching her with equal seriousness. She swallows and takes a breath, never having admitted the next part out loud before. “There was a boy, Max, my lab partner. He healed me, saved my life, and asked me not to tell anyone.” One side of her mouth quirks up. “As I’m sure you can guess, it turned out he was an alien. He, along with his sister and his best friend, were survivors of the ‘47 Crash.”

Tony’s eyebrows shoot up. “So you like the older men, hmm?”

She scrunches her nose at him, picturing a Max who’d actually been alive for all those years, and shakes her head. “He was my age. They’d been in some kind of stasis pods for decades, and hatched when they were approximately five or six. They had no idea who they were or where they came from. All they knew was that they weren’t human, and that they needed to hide that fact.”

She sighs and stares down at her fingers, which are tracing circles around the top of her glass. “They were pretty good at it too, until he healed me. The Sheriff got suspicious and alerted the FBI. Long story short, that year was rough. The FBI sent an undercover agent to our school who posed as the Guidance Counselor, we discovered the existence of a fourth alien like them, and an older one, a shapeshifter, who had a very long list of victims.” She shudders, remembering the exact moment she’d realized it was Nasedo in the car and not Max and the ice cold terror that had taken over.

When she looks up again, they are all watching her with solemn concern, even Bruce whose difficulty with maintaining eye contact she’s taken note of, and she continues, feeling more steady. “They took, they took Max. The FBI. They tortured him, threatened to kill everyone he loved. They were convinced that he was a killer, and all he’d done was save my life,” she laughs, bitter with remembered fear and never forgotten hate. “We got him out. I nearly got shot again, jumped off a bridge. It’s a lot more terrifying than spy movies would have you believe.”

Tony and Bruce and Pepper all chuckle darkly at that, and she knows they know, which makes everything better, and the story easier, and she smiles at them. “After that we found out more about who they were and why they were here.” She manages a nearly genuine grin. “Reincarnation and royalty, it all sounded more like a soap opera than a sci-fi novel.”

Tony looks desperately curious, while Bruce and Pepper are hiding it better, and she laughs softly. “I used to date a reincarnated alien King, whose purpose in this life was to reclaim his throne from the despot who killed him and his family on his home planet. Oh! And his wife was reincarnated too, that was fun,” she says with vicious sarcasm.

“I feel like we need popcorn,” Tony murmurs, his eyes bright as he stares at her, “and maybe a slideshow.”

Liz winces, thinking of the box of pictures under her bed in Roswell she hasn’t been able to open in years. “Not a lot of pictures, sorry. Anyways, the next year was well, worse. Aliens were coming out of the woodwork, basically all of whom were trying to kill us. I ended up covering up the murder of a U.S. Senator, who happened to be one of those murderous aliens.”

“Damn, I’m jealous. Pepper never lets me commit violence against politicians,” Tony says with a pout that makes her lips twitch against her will.

He is really very good at that.

“I promise,” she tells him, “If I ever find a murderous alien posing as a politician again, you can help me get rid of them.”

He grins and she takes a sip of juice for her dry throat before continuing. “We found out there were clones, of Max and the others. There were more murder attempts and...” she trails off, closing her eyes for a moment before opening them and grinning shakily at Bruce and Tony. “I received proof that time travel is possible. And no, I won’t tell you how. I-” she pauses before her voice can break and finishes her sentence with a shake of her head.

“Let’s just say that I’ve participated in world saving efforts before. Including, later, an alien parasite disaster that was not nearly as awesome as flying space whales.” She stops and cocks her head to the side as she distances herself from the memories. “By the way, can we get our hands on any remains? I’m pretty sure I can get into any doctoral program I want if I can write a thesis about the genetic structure of space whales.”

“Of course!” Tony says, then shakes a finger at her. “Also, you are Evil,” he tells her. “So evil.” He doesn’t protest her lack of details though and she smiles her appreciation before taking a deep breath and plunging forward, eager to be done.

“My best friend died. They tried to rule it a suicide, but I refused to believe it and we found out it was the reincarnated wife, part of a plot to get them back to their planet. We weren’t fast enough and they left. I don’t know if they made it; I don’t know if they’re alive.”

The room is quiet and her smile is sad and tired. “I thought I was done with aliens, except for the powers that popped up sophomore year at Brown, and then five years later I took an internship with Drs. Foster and Selvig and Thor fell out of the sky. And you know the rest, or enough of it anyway.”

“Is that when SHIELD became interested in you?” Bruce asks after a moment, watching her with an expression in his eyes she can’t quite read.

“That’s when they approached me,” she answers, then glances at Tony. “But based on the files Tony found, they’ve been aware of and keeping track of me since shortly after Max and the others left the planet. There were plans to approach me for recruitment after I finished my schooling, but me revealing some of my abilities during the fight with the robot thing apparently sped up that plan.”

“I still need to pick Thor’s brain about that thing,” Tony mutters. “Wonder what sort of metals they have on Asgard? I bet they’re awesome.”

“And the FBI?” Bruce asks, drawing her attention again. This time she recognizes some of the emotions she sees and wonders who’s been hunting him besides SHIELD.

“After they took Max, the shapeshifter took over the position of the Head of the Special Unit and managed to get it discredited and disbanded by Congress before he was eventually killed.” She smiles bitterly. “The disbandment was less than successful apparently, and a new Unit was formed, including most of the old members. I’m guessing I’m not their only interest, but SHIELD appears to be the main reason my dissection nightmares remain just nightmares.”

Bruce’s fingers are white against his glass and he sets it carefully down on the end table next to him, his chest rising and falling in a clearly controlled manner.

Tony opens his mouth and she nods at him before he can speak, not looking away from Bruce. “Yes, I would very much appreciate it if you found out more about who they are and what they’re doing.”

“Awesome, already on it. But also I was going to say that SHIELD is no longer the only thing keeping them away from you. There’s this whole Avengers thing, team of heroes, and they’ve got a bit of a proprietary interest in keeping you in one piece.”

Both Bruce and Liz look at Tony then, and he looks back with cocky arrogance overlaying a dozen other things -- dark, angry, protective things carefully hidden beneath the patented shiny surface.

“Not to mention Stark Industries, and we have a lot of weight to throw around,” Pepper says with a supremely vicious smile and Liz blinks against the sudden burning in her eyes.

“You are definitely the most dangerous person in this Tower,” she tells Pepper, and knows her gratitude is heard and received as Pepper’s smile softens and Liz’s eyes cut to Tony.

“Thank you,” she says, knowing he hates it and knowing he needs to hear it anyway. His smile tightens and she can see the flippant remark coming and heads it off with a subject change so random even Tony blinks. “Did Jarvis tell you that I’m starting a fan club for him? I think we should make t-shirts.”

To her surprise, it is Bruce who starts laughing, his hands coming up to cover his face as his shoulders shake. The others are struck silent in surprise and soon Bruce lowers his hands, his eyes bright and clear, the tension from moments before draining out of him. “Lightning in a bottle,” he murmurs and Liz smiles, thinking of chaos and time-bombs, and wonders if Fury will ever come to regret bringing this group of powerful, uncontrollable, individuals together.

He might. There are others who definitely will.

But her? She knows she won’t ever regret becoming a part of this team, and she will protect them as thoroughly and viciously as they will protect her.

That’s what families do.

A/N: So, just in case any one who’s read this far hasn’t seen Avengers, or forgot the line, Bruce said this to Fury in the helicarrier during the pre-Hulk argument: “It's his M.O., isn't it? I mean, what are we, a team? No, no, no. We're a chemical mixture that makes chaos. We're... we're a time-bomb.”

Oh and the rules Liz mentions are totally ones I had in my dorm room and think are a great idea for any workplace/school/what have you :D

Whimsicality's Fics

There was nothing more she wanted to do than crawl back into bed, wrap herself in Michael, and spend the day trading kisses and learning what made him sigh, what made his breath catch, what made him purr in the back of his throat. - Liz in Hunted by Ashita

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter 7 ~ 7/

Post by Whimsicality » Tue Oct 29, 2013 12:45 am

A/N: Hey guys, sorry it's been so long since I updated. First semester at a new school and doing upper division courses has eaten at my time, plus a job, an internship, and a lot of other campus involvement, has left me with very little mental energy during my rare free time. But! Here's chapter 8, finally, and I have started chapter nine. I don't promise it will be up soon, but hopefully during winter break at the very latest if I can't get it done in the next month or so. Thank you all so much for your feedback. I am so glad you're all enjoying this verse as much as I am because this story is going to be looooooooooong.

my heart is gold, my body is glass
(In which Liz has a good day.)

Liz isn’t sure how she manages to sleep that night, after Pepper drags Tony to bed and Liz bids goodnight to Bruce with a brief touch of her hand against his to convey his inclusion in the protection and safety they’re building. He looks at her with that vaguely surprised expression again before releasing a quiet smile that hides just as much danger as Pepper’s had and Liz feels another bubble of happiness well within her that carries her all the way to her room.

The moment she lays down, however, that bubble pops. Complicated emotions dance in her breast while equally complex thoughts weave through her mind: the past, present, and future creating a tapestry of plans and mistakes and hopes and fears and anger and love and other things she doesn’t have names for.

She gets a few hours of intermittent rest and is grateful once again for the alterations Max’s energy made to her body when she gives up and rolls out of bed at six. She’s still going to regret the lack of sleep later, especially given how little she’s had since Coulson picked her up four -- was it really only four? -- days ago. But not nearly as much as she would have regretted it in the days before her need for sleep was reduced by at least a third.

An ability that, between nightmares and as busy a schedule as she can manage, might just surpass molecular manipulation for sheer day-to-day usefulness.

She still feels stuck on the four days thing. She shouldn’t, her life has changed drastically in the blink of an eye before, but still. Four days ago she was in Norway, learning more about astrophysics from Jane than she ever did at Brown, enjoying every second of the adorably filthy affair that is Ava and Darcy, and trying to plan for a future her dreams wouldn’t let her see. And now, now she’s helped save the world (again) and met beautiful, broken people she never knew she needed, and is living in Stark Tower with those people and Jarvis and this is her life now? The world saving and the team thing and impossible billionaires who build her floors and -- Right, she needs to stop thinking, she refuses to accidentally give herself a panic attacked triggered by happy thoughts.

Jane and Darcy and Ava won’t be in until late that day, although much sooner than they would have arrived were they not using a Stark jet. And other than catching up on e-mails and phone calls, and finding a volunteer program, she doesn’t have a lot she has to do before then unless Bruce wants her to start interning for him today.

Well, there is one really big thing.

Pepper had coerced a promise out of Tony to get up at eight, long before his preferred wake-up call, because she wanted to be there when Liz healed him and she had an appointment she couldn’t reschedule at ten.

She takes a leisurely shower and then puts on a pair of designer jeans Pepper picked out that fit like a glove but are somehow incredibly comfortable. She ignores the nice tops, knowing she’ll probably be in at least one lab today, and instead slides the SHIELD t-shirt back on, brushing her fingers over it as the material ripples into a deep royal blue with Jarvis spelled out on the front instead, thinking it will amuse Tony. She hangs up the rest of the clothes and then stares dismally at her cell phone, which only reads 7:02. It’s times like this she wishes she could cook, make a big breakfast for everyone to wake up to, but she knows better than to try.

Tony would only be amused by the inevitable fire, but she’d feel guilty if she burned down the kitchen after this floor had miraculously escaped anything other than superficial damage during the attack.

She wanders out toward the common area anyway, figuring there might at least be pot-tarts or something else she can prepare without risk of destruction, and stops when she sees Bruce, fully dressed in one of his rumpled suits minus the jacket, examining the contents of the refrigerator while a pot of tea steeps on the stove.

“Morning,” she says as she steps onto the stone floor of the kitchen, glad that she put on socks as she can feel the cold even through the thick layer of cotton.

Bruce looks up, that crooked half-smile taking over his lips as the hand not holding up the fridge fidgets with the cuff of his sleeve. “Good morning.” He glances at the food lining the shelves and then back at her. “Um, I thought I could make breakfast, if, would you like some?”

She grins and forgoes the chairs to perch directly on the small kitchen table. “I would love some. I can’t cook at all.”

He raises an eyebrow at her before turning away again to start piling food on the counter. “A scientist who can’t cook?”

She shrugs, swinging her feet back and forth. “I always liked biology better than chemistry. Although chemistry can be fun. I guess food just never seemed like an interesting enough outcome for the effort.”

He chuckles as he closes the fridge and starts rifling through the cupboards. “Living on the run teaches you to appreciate food you can make yourself.” He shoots her a sly glance. “Even if it isn’t as interesting as certain chemical reactions.”

She laughs. “You caught me. I never understood how people could find chemistry boring when it was so easy to ‘accidentally’ produce exciting reactions with the right combinations.” She shakes her head. “Coulson told me not to let you and Tony blow things up; I think he should have been talking to you, not me.”

“And the true reason there are so many science nerds is revealed,” Bruce says with another flickering smile in her direction. “If it wasn’t for the need to avoid surprises, I would still be in the bad influence category.”

Liz grins, wishing suddenly that she could see Bruce wildly excited by something instead of his usual mix of careful calm and edged humor. She can picture it easily: his brown eyes large and bright, his deceptively slender frame taught with the good kind of tension, his curls askew and his lips stretched in a wide, genuine grin. It’s a painfully vivid and devastatingly beautiful image and she sucks in a breath, wondering if she accidentally triggered another flash.

Bruce appears not to have noticed her distraction, busy cracking eggs into a bowl, and she slides off the counter and walks toward the coffee pot, carefully skirting around him so she doesn’t see anything else and shoving down the unexpected emotions to be dealt with later.

Having a crush isn’t a bad thing, but, well, she has a lot to figure out before she starts to consider the kind of crush that can become something more.

She frowns as she realizes the coffee machine is unexpectedly high tech, then smirks at herself. It shouldn’t be unexpected, given whose kitchen they’re inhabiting. “Jarvis? Where do I find the coffee and how do I work this thing?”

“Coffee beans and grounds can be found in the cupboard above you and to the left, and if you place either one in the compartment marked with the green arrow, then I can take care of the rest,” Jarvis informs her promptly and Liz grins beatifically.

“I love you, Jarvis. Do you think the state of New York will be okay with the two of us getting married?”

“Well, they have proven fairly progressive in regards to marriage laws, but I’m not sure they’re prepared for the concept of a sentient machine being granted civil rights,” Jarvis says dryly, then adds, after a moments pause during which Liz can hear Bruce chuckling. “Also, if they did, I would expect a better proposal than that.”

“I will make elaborate plans,” she promises him as she opens the cupboard he indicated and, after staring in stupefaction at the selection available, chooses a bag of dark roast beans and firmly closes the door, resolving to investigate more thoroughly later. She turns back to the machine and locates the green arrow, biting back questions about what all the other compartments are for, and pours in half the bag after figuring out how to slide it open. As soon as she’s pushed it back into the machine, several different things light up and it starts to whir.

She watches it with fascination for a moment, then turns back to Bruce, who is steadily adding other ingredients to the bowl with the eggs, a fact that makes her mouth water. “That’s the second person I’ve proposed to in the past twenty-four hours,” she tells him after a moment, earning an amused and disbelieving glance. “Pepper didn’t say yes either.

“Is that a regular thing for you? Proposing to people you’ve just met?” he asks her as he dices peppers with a deft hand.

“No? Not until recently anyways. I wonder what Coulson would do if I proposed to him the next time he brings over paperwork,” she muses, fingers twitching with the urge to offer to help that she’s manfully resisting for fear of accidentally setting something on fire.

“He’d probably just give you more paperwork,” Bruce says dryly.

Liz wrinkles her nose. “Right, striking that plan from the record. Could I, like, grate cheese or something? As long as I do it away from the stove that should be safe.”

Bruce shoots her another amused glance, but nods. “There’s cheddar in the fridge, and Jarvis should be able to point you in the direction of the cheese grater.”

Jarvis directs her to one of the drawers and she perches on the table again, grating cheese into one of the bowls Bruce had already pulled out and carefully trying not to grate her fingers as well. Her and kitchen implements have a long and painful history.

Tony chooses that moment to stumble into the room and goes straight for the coffee machine, grabbing a mug from a rack next to it and sticking it under one of the many spouts, then heaving a blissful sigh when rich, dark liquid pours into it. He drains the cup while Liz and Bruce both watch in amazed amusement, and then sticks it back into the machine to be refilled. Once it is, he turns and blinks at them, still looking a little muzzy, and gives a sort of mumbling grunt that might be a hello before slouching over to the table and collapsing bonelessly in one of the chairs.

Liz chuckles and goes back to grating after she and Bruce exchange quiet smirks. There is a companionable silence, Tony sipping on his coffee while Bruce adds onions to the egg mixture, and Liz wonders what it will be like when everyone else moves in.

“What other powers do you have?” Bruce asks several minutes later, his voice careful. “Besides the electricity and the molecular manipulation?”

Tony shifts in his seat, clearly also interested in the answer, and Liz frowns down at the cheese. It’s still weird to talk about her secrets so openly. “I get flashes, from people and objects,” she says after a moment, “Usually related to heightened emotions or significant events. Sometimes it’s little, like seeing an image of someone’s house from touching a key, or big, like seeing my boyfriend’s spaceship crash while kissing him.”

“That’s a very specific example,” Tony murmurs over the rim of his coffee cup, amusement leeching into his tone as his eyes watch her with more awake curiosity.

She grins. “It is, isn’t it? Anyways, what I think you might want to know, Bruce,” she says, turning back toward the other man. “Is that I can also form connections with people. See and feel more than I can with a flash, and make it go both ways. That’s how I helped you. That usually requires eye contact, not just touch.”

Bruce looks at her for a moment, his expression opaque. “How much did you see?”

Liz shakes her head with what she hopes is a reassuring smile. “Not much, only the recent stuff, the things that had made you angry. Natasha and Calcutta and the argument; the staff.” She cocks her head to the side, suddenly curious. “What did you see?”

He flushes slightly and turns back to the eggs. “Me, mostly. How you saw me while we’d worked in the lab. And you, meditating.”

Liz nods and hmms thoughtfully, wondering suddenly how much of her hero worship he’d picked up on, then glances back down at her hands and turns the cheese so she doesn’t cut herself.

“Do you have control over the flashes?” Tony asks, still peering at her from over his coffee cup.

Liz shakes her head, then nods, then shrugs. “I can’t force them, but I can stop myself from seeing them. I usually do; it’s an invasion of privacy.”

“Usually?” Bruce asks, not looking up, and Liz smiles grimly.

“Well, for instance, I’m careful not to see anything when I touch all of you and will continue to do so unless given permission otherwise. However, if Fury happens to offer me a handshake...”

Tony laughs shortly. “I like the way you think.”

Liz winks at him, debating with herself for a moment before speaking again. “I also see the future in my dreams, sometimes. It’s usually more terrifying and vague than helpful,” she adds when she feels Tony’s attention sharpen. She finishes grating the last of the cheese and then smiles brightly. “And I can do this.” She concentrates and the bowl of grated cheese floats over to rest on the counter beside Bruce.

“You are just endlessly useful,” Tony mutters, staring between her and the bowl with clear envy. “I have always wanted to be able to move shit with my mind.”

“Who hasn’t?” Bruce asks, glancing at them both with a small smile before raising an eyebrow at her. “Anything else?”

“Nope. Isabel could go into people’s dreams, and Michael could blow shit up. Max had this shield thing, and... the other one could set things on fire. I’ve never been able to do any of that. And they didn’t have my electricity thing as far as I know. I’ve got some theories about individual versus group powers, but without genetic samples I’m not likely to get, there’s no real way of knowing.”

She ignores the desire to do science that is practically radiating off both of the men and scrunches her nose. “There’s something you should probably know about Ava before she gets here. She’s the clone of Tess,” she says, carefully shoving down her conditioned response of fury to that name. “Who was Max’s wife in their first life.”

Bruce stops pouring eggs into the pan as he joins Tony in staring at her. Tony blinks and breaks the silence. “You are a very forgiving person. Or would that be understanding since she’s not actually the one who did anything? I don’t know. Also, thank you for the heads up on another alien moving in. She’s not likely to burn the place down is she?”

Liz shakes her head with a smile. “Not unless you try to hurt me or Darcy, or Jane. She’s a genuinely good person, despite every reason not to be.” Her smile softens. “She’s family.”

Tony nods, his expression speculative, but doesn’t say anything. Neither does Bruce, who’s returned to his cooking, and Liz hops down from the table, setting the cheese grater in the sink and getting a mug of coffee for herself.

Pepper appears shortly after that, looking impeccably put together in a charcoal pants suit and a silky crimson blouse. Her hair is pulled up in a complicated bun with glints of gold at her ears and she looks like she could have made Loki get on his knees and beg. Liz wolf whistles and Tony grins.

“You didn’t put on lipstick yet,” he says with a leer and Pepper smiles at him with fondness and just a hint of deviltry.

“I’m saving it for after your little appointment and my plans to kiss you into silence.”

“I’m not sure that having what amounts to alien-powered heart surgery counts as a little appointment,” Tony says dryly, his eyes sparkling with that mixture of affection and wonder as he looks up at her.

“You’ve assigned less significance to important moments before,” she retorts, amusement still threading through her voice, along with something darker, and Tony crooks his head to the side in silent acknowledgement.


Pepper smiles and runs her hand over his shoulders as she walks past him toward the coffee machine. “Good Morning Liz, Bruce,” she says as she stops next to Liz and places a mug under the spout, then moves it to another one which adds what appears to be cream.

“Morning,” Liz replies with a smile over the rim of her own mug and Bruce shoots her a smile as well.

“I hope you all like omelets. Any allergies I should be aware of?”

“Strawberries!” Tony says before Pepper can answer, waving his mug in a way that would be dangerous if he hadn’t already finished his second cup. “She’s allergic to strawberries. I’m allergic to Hammertech and stupidity; as long as you haven’t figured out how to cook either of those, then we’ll be fine. Although if you do, tell me, because that actually sounds kind of fun.”

Liz snorts and Bruce shakes his head as he looks pointedly back at the pan and starts sprinkling in cheese, not bothering with replying to Tony.

“I’d make a comment about your definition of stupidity, but the food smells amazing so instead I’m going to compliment you again for deciding to move your new friends in,” Pepper says dryly as she takes a seat at the table across from Tony and raises an eyebrow at him. “Now why don’t you get plates and silverware for everyone?” she asks in a way that really isn’t a question.

Tony’s face ripples with an absolutely fascinating array of expressions before settling on a smirk as he rises to his feet and executes a perfect bow in Pepper’s direction. “I live to serve, Your Lordship.”

Liz giggles, seating herself next to Pepper at the table, while Tony produces plates and silverware and slides them on to the table in front of each chair before refilling his mug for the third time and hovering over Bruce’s shoulder. “Got any plans for the day, Brucey? Cause I was thinking we should work on some super-stretchy pants for you, and maybe a comm that won’t vanish into the Hulk’s ear canal when you change.”

Bruce gently elbows Tony out of his space but nods, and Liz crinkles her nose. “What would happen if one did? Would it get crushed when you changed back? Or like, explode out of the side of your face?” All three of them turn to stare at her, Tony looking amused while Pepper and Bruce look vaguely horrified, and Liz flushes slightly. “Sorry, biologist, we all have morbid senses of curiosity. I’ll shut up now.”

“Part of me wants to suggest a rule about appropriate breakfast conversations, but Tony would feel the need to break it in the most gruesome way possible, so it’s probably a bad idea,” Pepper murmurs to her quietly after Tony has gone back to hovering over Bruce and Liz chuckles agreement.

Bruce announces that breakfast is ready shortly after and soon they are all sitting around the table, ravenously digging into the fluffy, perfect, omelets. “You,” Liz says, pointing at Bruce with her fork, “Are officially my favorite Avenger.”

Tony pouts in her direction around a mouthful of eggs and Bruce chuckles, raising one eyebrow at her. “Does that mean I can expect a proposal in my future?”

“That depends,” Liz says after taking another bite. “Pepper turned me down, but Jarvis didn’t, not yet anyways. If we can get New York to recognize the civil rights of sentient AI’s, think we can get them to approve polyamory? Cause if so, then I will happily prepare a spectacular proposal for the two of you.”

Bruce is laughing quietly into his eggs and Tony and Pepper are staring at them in clear confusion. “I find this conversation baffling, but delightful,” Tony declares after a moment. “Also, no proposing to Jarvis without asking me first. It’s tradition.”

“As scintillating as this discussion of my marriage prospects is,” Jarvis inserts, his tone so dry it could evaporate the morning dew, “Ms. Potts’ car will be arriving in forty minutes, so you may wish to begin Sir’s little appointment.”

“No respect, I get no respect around here,” Tony mutters, scowling at all of them while his eyes twinkle. “One of these days I will reprogram your attitude, Jarvis.”

Liz and Bruce chuckle while Pepper shakes her head before turning to Liz. “Where would you like to do this? Do you need a sterile environment?”

“No,” Liz says with a faint smile. “It’s not that kind of medical procedure. And it doesn’t really matter, but maybe Tony’s workshop? It’s where the Arc Reactor is going to end up anyways I imagine,” she adds, glancing at Tony and not saying that she also thinks it’s where he’ll be the most comfortable.

It is an immensely terrifying idea to let someone else change your body on this kind of scale, and she is awed and grateful that he trusts her enough to allow her to do this for him.

“Works for me,” Tony says, that carefully honed flippancy back in his voice. He and Pepper rise to their feet and Liz joins them. Bruce also stands, but looks between them and table with clear hesitancy.

“I can stay here and clean up-”

Tony cuts him off with a sharp wave of his hands. “Nope, no way. You are not missing out on seeing scientific history. Let’s go.”

Bruce’s lips quirk into a smile and he nods, stepping around the table to follow them to the elevator. Despite going down only one floor, Liz is still surprised that the entire ride (less than a minute between situating themselves all inside and then crowding back out again) is spent in silence. Silence is not something she has an easy time picturing in regards to Tony.

The workshop is impressive, full of gleaming metal, shining lights, dozens of screens, and of course the armor (a few iterations of it) displayed in all its glory. Tony spins to face her before she can take in anymore, giving her a wide, tight smile she recognizes from the days before she met him, when Tony Stark was just a face on the TV.

“Where do you want me, Doc?”

Liz smiles back and glances around the room and the distinct lack of anything resembling a dentist’s chair which she’d been subconsciously picturing for some reason. There are a few workbenches, mostly covered in tools and parts, a couple office chairs, and an oil stained couch in the corner probably meant for when Tony works himself into exhaustion.

She shrugs. “Pick a chair, any chair, preferably one with a back. Sitting will work better.” She winks at him. “And as I’m still a young upstart, I can handle kneeling.”

He sticks his tongue out at her and she laughs, feeling the air of tension dissipate ever so slightly. Tony turns and heads for the closest office chair, a nice leather affair that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the executive offices a few floors down if it wasn’t for the scattered scorch marks. He plops down in it and spins idly from side to side as Pepper takes up a position behind him and Bruce hovers a few feet away.

Liz kneels on the stone floor next to him and realizes with an internal grimace that young or not, she’s going to feel it when she stands up again. She raises an eyebrow at Tony. “This will probably be easier if you take off your shirt.”

He smirks at her as he complies. “So you do like to watch.”

She shakes her head with a grin and then reaches a hand out towards the glowing blue marvel in his chest. She hesitates before actually touching it and meets his eyes again, waiting for permission. His jaw is tight and the twinkle is gone from his eyes, but he nods and she lowers her hand to the joining of flesh and metal. She bites her lip and concentrates for a moment, not using her powers to do anything, just letting them tell her about his body and the damage that has been done.

She’s glad she’s taken anatomy classes even as she half wishes for a medical degree. Max had known a lot less about the human body than she does when he’d healed her all those years ago, and even though a bullet wound was a lot simpler than what she was about to do, the process was the same. Max hadn’t known what he was doing, what to repair and what to leave alone, he had let her body do the work. Her genetic code had provided the instructions, her cells the materials and the means - Max had just given them the energy to replicate and repair at a speed that human biology wasn’t capable of on its own.

Pulling her mind back from Tony’s body, she looks up at him again. “Okay, this is how we’re going to do this. I’m going to dissolve the shrapnel first, with the arc reactor still in.” She waits for his nod and then continues. “Then you’ll remove the reactor and I’ll repair the rest of the damage to your heart, lungs, sternum, and ribs. There’s a lot of tissue and some bone to regrow; your sternum is almost entirely gone, so it might take a minute or two, and it’s going to feel uncomfortable. Luckily your diaphragm seems to have escaped damage, or I imagine you’d have even greater breathing difficulties, and your ribs were minimally affected.”

He nods again, unsurprised by her diagnosis, but Pepper and Bruce are looking a little pale at the blunt description of the damage he’s been living with. Frankly, Liz is amazed by how much he’s been able to do, even with the arc reactor, which might have saved his life, but also significantly hinders his lung capacity.

“What about the casing for the reactor?” Tony asks and Liz smiles.

“That I can take care of, in fact, after some alteration, it will provide some additional material for your cells to use.”

Tony nods with a spiky little grin and Bruce lets out a low whistle. “I really can’t wait to run some tests on your abilities,” Bruce mutters, his eyes alight with possibility.

Liz turns her gaze on him, smile fading a bit. “As long as the results don’t ever leave the tower, I’m in.”

“Of course,” he replies, a flicker of the darkness she’d seen the night before appearing in his eyes as he nods at her.

Her lips curve up again and she nods back before direction her attention at Tony again. “You ready?”

He takes a breath and exhales slowly, then nods, Pepper’s hands coming up to squeeze his shoulders. Liz meets her gaze with a reassuring smile, then Tony’s, and then finally closes her eyes, lifting her other hand to rest on Tony’s chest so that she’s framing the arc reactor. She sends her power outward, into the damaged remains of Tony’s heart, seeking the intrusive bits of metal still trying to kill him.

Each one she finds she dissolves, altering the molecules until they become healthy tissue, helping to restore the damage they caused. She doesn’t stop until every speck of foreign material is gone, and the damage around them as repaired as she can manage with the arc reactor still sitting in his chest.

When she opens her eyes, leaving her power beneath his skin so that she’ll feel it if something goes wrong, only seconds have passed and Tony is staring at her, eyes a little wild. “That felt very strange,” he says after a moment. “You’re recording everything, right Jarvis?”

“Yes sir, I am recording video and audio along with all of your biometrics.”

“Good boy,” Tony says affectionately, then glances up at Pepper. “So, Pep, I know you said you’d never do this again, but think you could pop this bad boy out for me?”

Liz wonders for a moment if Tony’s hands are too big, which seems impractical if he ever has to replace it, but she can see the fine tremors in his fingers as they rest on the arms of the chair and doesn’t ask.

Pepper steps around the chair and kisses Tony on the lips, her face soft. “Of course.”

Tony smiles up at her and their eyes wordlessly convey a thousand moments of history that Liz and Bruce aren’t privy too. Eventually Pepper pulls her gaze away and visibly steels herself before reaching between Liz’s hands and grasping the Arc Reactor, pulling it out with a twist and a click. A cord still links it to Tony’s chest and Liz closes her eyes again as Pepper reaches inside to disconnect it. The moment Pepper has pulled away, she is one with her power again.

She starts with his heart, letting his own DNA guide the healing as the metal and other foreign substances fade away while organic tissue grows and repairs until it is whole and fully functioning once again. She spreads her mind out to either side, to his lungs, healing the damage and shrinkage done to the delicate organs and surrounding tissue. After that comes the bones: the small bits of ribs that had been removed to make room for whatever preceded the Arc Reactor, and then the sternum, both the gladiolus and the manubrium needing to be entirely regrown. Afterwards she lets the energy seep into the rest of his chest, repairing and reinforcing muscle and skin and the other, less fatal, damage done in the blast that should have killed him.

She could keep going into the rest of his body, the energy wants to, but she’s starting to feel dizzy and she has done what she offered, and more. Pulling herself out, bit by bit, she keeps her eyes closed until she is entirely within her own skin again. When she opens her eyes this time, Tony is flushed, his chest rising and falling with deep breaths, and he, Pepper, and Bruce, are all staring at his unmarred torso in awe.

Liz sways and Tony’s attention snaps to her with laser like focus. “You okay? Because I am fantastic, more fantastic than I have been in years and I kind of want to buy you a small country. Ever wanted to own a country?”

Bruce is suddenly there, supporting her as she crawls to her feet, and Liz shakes her head, then instantly regrets it as the room spins for a moment before righting itself again. “Uh no, no countries please. Coffee though, coffee would be nice. Something complicated and blended and laced with enough chocolate and caffeine to power your suit.”

“That can be arranged!” Tony says with a grin, his eyes bright with energy and joy, and Liz feels a surge of glad satisfaction that she put that look there. She took a gift that has only ever brought pain and used it not only to help save the world, but to heal a friend. It is a good day in the life of Liz Parker.

Pepper turns Tony’s chair to face her and takes his head in her hands, pressing their lips together. Liz smiles and looks up at Bruce. “Help me back to the kitchen?”

He nods, smiling back at her, and settles his arm more securely around her waist as they turn and walk slowly toward the elevator, leaving Tony and Pepper to their moment.

When they make their way back to the kitchen, Bruce helps her to a chair and then starts cleaning.

“If I wasn’t feeling a little loopy, I would protest you doing the cooking and the cleaning,” Liz tells him, her head propped up on her bent arm as she watches him move around the kitchen and tries to ignore the still fizzing energy in her body and the visions of DNA helixes dancing in her brain. The things she could do, if she let herself experiment with her abilities; it scares her sometimes, the temptation to play god.

“I think you get a pass on work for the day,” Bruce replies with a small but warm smile. “You’ve already accomplished something amazing.”

She lifts her free hand in a limp attempt at a dismissive wave. “It was my abilities, not me. And it was the least I could do.” Her gaze goes distant, no longer seeing the room in front of her. “There are plenty of others I couldn’t help.”

“No,” Bruce says, stopping next to her and touching her hand, drawing her attention back to the present. His eyes are intent and his fingers are warm against her skin. “You did this, chose to do this, and that is very admirable.”

She fights the urge to disagree and manages a smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he replies lightly and then pulls away, picking up the last plate and carrying it to the sink.

Liz slumps in her chair and wonders if she could manipulate a regular cup of coffee into something resembling a frappucino. Before that thought gets very far, the elevator chimes and Tony and Pepper appear. Tony saunters into the kitchen while Pepper disappears into the hallway, returning a moment later with a briefcase and a tablet. She gives Tony one last kiss and then squeezes Liz’s shoulder, wordlessly communicating her gratitude before bidding them goodbye and vanishing back into the elevator.

Tony has put on a shirt and is rubbing his chest through it, a seemingly subconscious gesture as he prowls aimlessly around the table, squinting his eyes at Bruce as he washes the dishes by hand before leaning on the table next to Liz and catching her gaze. “Is there any particular coffee place you’d like a drink from? My awesome coffee machine can make a pretty mean blended mocha.”

“That sounds perfect. Just give it, like, three or four extra shots,” Liz says with a faded grin.

Tony grins back, rubbing his hands together. “One Tony special, coming up!”

She chuckles and he prances - that’s really the only word for it - over to the coffee machine. He pulls a tall clear glass out of one of the cupboards and then fiddles with the various buttons and levers on the machine before sticking the glass under a spout several places down from the one that dispensed their morning coffee. The machine whirs and soon the glass is filling with some concoction of coffee, ice, and chocolate. When it’s nearly full, Tony moves the glass to the next spout which dispenses a perfect dollop of chocolate whip cream on top. Reaching into another cupboard, Tony pulls out a bright orange bendy straw and sticks it into the glass before carrying it over to her.

Liz maneuvers herself into a more upright position and takes a tentative sip through the straw, then barely holds back a moan as the delicious shock of caffeine and sugar hits her system. “You are a god,” she tells Tony, utterly serious.

He laughs and winks at her. “I have been told that before, usually in a different context.”

She wrinkles her nose at him and then goes back to her coffee, refusing to continue that particular conversation without more fuel. He laughs again and goes back to hovering over Bruce, pestering him about the Dishwasher that Bruce is ignoring. Liz watches them interact with a smile on her face, images of the Crashdown and dozens of similar arguments among her friends overlaying the present. She touches her stomach, remembering a bullet and a life saved, and feels like she’s completed some karmic circle.

It is a very good day, and it will not be her last.

Whimsicality's Fics

There was nothing more she wanted to do than crawl back into bed, wrap herself in Michael, and spend the day trading kisses and learning what made him sigh, what made his breath catch, what made him purr in the back of his throat. - Liz in Hunted by Ashita

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Re: Ekphrasis (Avengers XO, Adult, Liz/Bruce) Chapter 8 ~ 10

Post by Whimsicality » Thu Jun 26, 2014 10:55 pm

A/N: This chapter took longer to write than possibly any chapter of anything I've ever written. I've had long hiatuses, but never with so much actual continued work. Hopefully it's worth the wait, and I deeply appreciate every comment I've received. You all rock!

(Also, as reward for your patience, I've been hard at work on a prequel fic about how the podsquad first came to SHIELD's attention to begin with, so I'll be posting that soonish.)

other than a dream, had nothing to lose
(In which there is paperwork, reunions, and friendships to build.)

After she finishes her coffee and feels more alive again, she waves Tony and Bruce off to the lab and goes back to her room to tackle the rest of her to-do list. She texts Kyle and Maria to assure them that she’s still alive, and to try and arrange a time for a skype call. She wants to make sure Tony is available when they are as she doesn’t think they’ll believe her without him. She also wants to see their faces when Tony fucking Stark pops up in their video chat.

After sending those off, she tackles her e-mail. She replies to the ones from Brown, asking them to hold off on sending over her final transcripts to the University of Tromsø, and e-mails the University of Tromsø to withdraw her attendance. After that she tracks down an e-mail for a transfer advisor at Columbia and shoots off a formal request for transfer information for the fall semester if she’s still eligible, which she doubts given how close it is to beginning, and the spring semester if she’s not.

She’s willing to take a semester off if need be -- it’s not like she won’t be learning, from Jane and Bruce and Tony, and time to settle into the Tower and the whole team of superheroes thing without the pressure of maintaining her more than perfect grade point average would probably be a good thing.

Looking up volunteer work can wait until later; today she wants to stay close to Tony, just in case, and be here for when Jane and the others arrive. When she rises to her feet, she feels a little dizzy and adds keeping an eye on herself to the list. Maybe a nap is in order later.

She heads to the elevator and asks Jarvis to take her to whichever lab Tony and Bruce are hanging out in. They’re in Tony’s, and the moment the doors slide open she is nearly rocked back by the pounding bass of what is unmistakeably Metallica. She swallows against the painful reminder of Michael and steps into the room, eyes scanning for the two mad scientists lurking somewhere in the gleaming wonderland of technology.

Bruce and Tony are standing shoulder to shoulder, their backs to her, as Tony manipulates a holographic schematic. Bruce occasionally reaches forward to point to things, or once, to flick something away, earning a combination glare-grin from Tony.

She recognizes a mock-up of the small craft the Chitauri used and steps closer. “I could devote the rest of my life to studying those things,” she says, and grins as Tony and Bruce both snap their heads around. “What are you guys doing?”

“Discussing whether or not the Chitauri were a purely biological, or mechanically engineered species,” Bruce answers her, his eyes penetrating as he scans her, his inner doctor apparently satisfied with what he sees as he gives her a small smile.

“I’m arguing in favor of machine based, of course,” Tony says with a bright grin. “And I will be proven right when the Mayor’s office ships over the remains I negotiated for.”

“They are definitely biological, just possibly a biology that evolved a metal like substance,” Bruce disagrees with a fond frown in Tony’s direction.

“Could be biology reinforced with armor,” Liz interjects, reaching up a hand to gently poke at the holographic images hovering in the air. They shift at her touch and she smiles. The Tower is unbelievably cool.

Tony is frowning and Liz shoots him a sly grin. “However, the way they shut down so instantly after you blew up the mothership definitely implies some kind of biological/mechanical relationship.”

“Hive mind?” Bruce suggests while Tony grins back at her.

“Maybe,” Liz says, wishing briefly that she’d bothered to connect with one of the Chitauri while she had the chance. Tapping into a potential hive mind would have been a fascinating experience. And dangerous. But she thinks the fascination would have won out if she’d had time to consider it. “That doesn’t explain the lights in their weapons going out too though. It was like a switch had been flipped when they all dropped.”

“Maybe they need a power source to exist outside of space?” Tony muses, “Or they were tied to the Tesseract somehow and it wasn’t the bomb, but the portal closing that shut them down.”

“Probably some combination of the above -- a hive or overmind, combined with either a power source on the mothership or a connection to the Tesseract,” Bruce says and Liz shoots an eager glance at Tony.

“So, when is that stuff supposed to get here?”

He chuckles. “Not soon enough. In the meantime, let’s do something about Mr. Nudist over here.”

Bruce shakes his head and Liz laughs. Her new job is going to be so much fun.

Hours later, Jarvis interrupts them by the simple expedient of turning off the music, now blaring Hells Bells. Tony scowls at the nearest screen. “What’s up, J? And it had better not be another damn reporter.”

“No sir,” Jarvis replies with clear amusement. “But I thought you might like to know that Agent Coulson is on his way with Dr. Foster and her companions.”

Liz brightens and stops rocking precariously on her stool, jumping to her feet. “Awesome! I can’t wait to see their faces. And I’ll finally have stuff again.”

“I don’t know, I like what you’ve done with your shirt,” Tony says with a grin as he pushes away the hologram of the polymer they’ve been working on.

Liz preens as she brushes her finger against the royal blue material she’d altered that morning. “It’s the first in a line of Jarvis themed products. He’s going to be more popular than you when I’m done,” she says with a teasing wink.

“Impossible,” Tony asserts cockily. “Besides, I created him, so any of his fans are automatically my fans too.”

Bruce chuckles and shakes his head. “Can we continue this discussion in the elevator? I would like to meet Dr. Foster. Her last published paper was brilliant.” His lips quirk slyly as he glances between her and Tony. “Maybe she’ll provide some sanity for our little scientific community.”

Tony sticks his tongue out at Bruce and Liz bursts out laughing. “Oh my god, that’s hilarious. Jane is worse than Tony when it comes to not sleeping, and she tried to microwave a potted plant once when she was in one of her research fugues. Darcy is the sane one in our little family. And that is terrifying on a level you will come to regret understanding.”

Bruce sighs, although his eyes are twinkling, and Tony grins. “She sounds perfect. We’re going to give Fury an aneurysm; this is going to be awesome.”

Liz grins in complete agreement and resists the urge to visibly bounce during the walk to the elevator and the ride back to the communal floor. They reach it before Jane and the others do and Liz amuses Bruce and Tony by surrendering her self-control and dancing in place in front of the elevator as she waits for them to arrive.

When they do, Agent Coulson wisely steps out and to the side as a blonde and brunette whirlwind descend on Liz, laughter and hugs and babble and a few tears ensuing as Jane watches with a fond smile before being pulled in by Liz for her own share of the affectionate reunion. When they all finally pull away, Ava is watching Coulson, Darcy is staring around the room in awe, and Jane is already halfway toward Bruce and Tony, hero worship and science pouring out of her mouth in equal measure.

Liz chuckles and follows, not sure if it’s to be a mediator or a spectator. Tony is grinning and Bruce is blushing until Jane asks about the portal, and then Tony is opening a screen on a nearby window, causing a brief detour in the conversation as Jane demands technical details, before he has Jarvis display the video from his suit of the portal opening. Jane’s words are no longer intelligible to those with less than three doctorate degrees and Liz shakes her head fondly before turning back to Ava and Darcy and Coulson, who has already claimed the kitchen table and covered it in sheets of neatly typewritten white paper, all stamped with the SHIELD logo.

Scrunching her nose up in distaste, Liz reluctantly takes a seat at the table and stares at the reams of forms while her wrist twinges in anticipation. “Have they worked up a gone-villain plan for you yet? Or is it too late?” she asks Coulson with a raised eyebrow. His answering smile is as bland as it was back in New Mexico and she sighs. “Definitely too late.”

Darcy joins them after being summoned by a crooked finger that is impossible to resist, but Ava hops onto the counter by the coffee machine and shakes her head when Coulson raises his eyebrow in question. “No papers for me, G-man. I don’t exist and neither do any secrets I may or may not know, capische?”

Her words aren’t really a question and Coulson nods after a long moment of eye contact that has Liz once again questioning when she became acquainted with so many people perfectly capable of burning the world to the ground.

“Very well.” He turns toward Liz and Darcy, sitting side by side, and hands them each a pen and a stack of papers. “Initial where indicated and sign at the bottom. Do not date, these have always been and will always be in effect.”

Liz chokes off a laugh, but doesn’t argue. The papers, and her signature, mean nothing. She’s pretty sure Coulson knows that and is only doing this for the peace of mind of people way above all of them in the chain of command. She’s sure they’re also way above such petty concerns as reality and the likelihood of any member of their band of heroes and misfits giving a flying fuck about words on paper that try to define and delineate the parameters of their existence.

Despite that fact, she still commits every word of every page to memory, and half-hopes that Jarvis is also recording all of it with the cameras she’s sure are just about everywhere in the tower. She only thinks just about because she has a feeling Tony might have one or two deadzones in case he needs to do something that no one could ever find a video file of.

Most of it is standard bureaucratic bullshit, hardly different from what she would have signed had she been hired by a traditional company, except perhaps in quantity, but there are a few things of interest -- references to acronyms and events and scenarios that give her an idea of just how big picture SHIELD really is. She resolves to devote some of her rapidly shrinking free time to learning more about this World Security Council she doesn’t remember having any say in or knowledge of before New York and a nuclear bomb.

Finally, they are done, and she is flexing her fingers with a grimace as Coulson collects the papers with silent efficiency before staring at her with a telling eye flick toward the three scientists still babbling across the room.

Liz sighs and then looks toward the ceiling. “Jarvis?” He doesn’t respond, but a moment later there is irritated muttering interspersed with curses from the trio as their screen shuts off and Liz whistles, drawing their attention. “Your turn for hand cramps, oh genius friends of mine.”

Jane frowns mutinously, most likely at the interruption to <i>science</i> rather than anything else, but Tony shakes his head with a smile that’s all teeth and finely honed arrogance. “I sign nothing that Pepper hasn’t approved first, and neither does Big Green here.”

There is another staring contest and Coulson once again nods, before turning to face Jane and holding out a stack of forms. She heaves a sigh, but keeps her protest to barely audible mutterings as she drops into a chair and starts reading.

Liz stands, pulling Darcy up with her, and ignores Coulson to look at Tony and Bruce. “I assume you three will continue playtime after she’s done; mind if I show Darcy and Ava to the empty room next to mine and maybe give them a small tour?”

Tony shakes his head, grin widening into something with less teeth and more warmth. “Tour away! Just not my bedroom; Pepper will get mad at me if I let someone see our toy collection. Again.”

Bruce flushes, Ava makes a choking noise, and Darcy laughs delightedly. “Dude, you’re officially my favorite superhero. Other than Liz of course.”

Liz grins as Tony preens. “You, my dear, are welcome to explore my liquor collection. And not just the cheap stuff.”

“Sweet,” Darcy says, reaching out to pull Ava off the counter. “Come on, Lightning Liz, let’s rock this place.”

Tony looks torn between amusement and a faint hint of dismay at what he might have unleashed and Liz laughs softly before accepting Darcy’s free hand. Bruce tilts his head at her, a tiny mischievous smile twitching his lips. “You’re not going to join us for playtime?”

Her brain goes to very, very bad places, and Liz fights a blush as she shakes her head. “Maybe later, Jane needs some quality time with brains as big and educated as hers.” She raises the hand linked with Darcy’s. “And someone needs to keep this one from breaking the rest of the tower.”

Bruce nods with another blink and you miss it smile, but doesn’t speak, and Liz feels a little wriggle of excitement in her stomach at the barest hint of disappointment she can see in his steady brown eyes before he looks away. Darcy squeezes her hand and Liz knows there will be questions later, but shoves that thought, and all feelings, down into a deep dark hole and leads Darcy and Ava down the hallway toward the bedrooms and away from the brilliant brains behind them.

As soon as they’re out of hearing range, Darcy turns to look at her with a sharp gaze and Liz shoots Ava a desperate glance. The blonde laughs, but obligingly distracts her girlfriend with the simple tactic of pulling her over for a kiss that quickly turns enthusiastic enough to have Liz blushing and giggling at the thought of Tony’s pout at having missed this part of the tour.

Eventually Darcy pulls away, though not without a retaliatory and appreciative pinch of her girlfriend’s ass that makes Ava squeak endearingly. “You will not distract me so easily, missy,” the brunette says, waving a finger at Liz, who just grins and pushes open the door to the bedroom next to hers.

“Look! Your new home until Tony and Pepper finish the reconstruction.”

Ava shakes her head in clear amusement at Liz’s refusal to surrender and Darcy wraps surprisingly strong fingers around Liz’s wrist, dragging her and the blonde into the bedroom and then closing the door and leaning against it to prevent Liz from leaving. “Spill. There’s a gorgeous older man flirting with you and it’s not even the billionaire known for, you know, sleeping with everything in sight. I want to know everything.”

Liz scrunches up her face in silent protest, but then lets out a loud sigh and collapses on the bed that’s identical to the one in her room. “He’s brilliant. I’ve been reading his papers since before high school and it should be creepy, but,” she shrugs helplessly. “He’s even smarter than I thought, and secretly funny, and has some serious anger issues. Like, giant, green, alien spaceship smashing anger issues and…” she trails off, noting the raised eyebrows on Darcy’s face and the lack of them on Ava’s. “He is gorgeous and he has no idea.”

Ava chuckles and Darcy shakes her head, hands on her hips as she fixes Liz with a mocking stare. “You realize you just basically quoted a pop song that I’ve heard you give hour long rants about, right?”

Liz scowls. No she didn’t. “They’re fetishizing self-esteem issues, first of all. He doesn’t have self-esteem issues, he has rage monster issues. And secondly I’m not attracted to him because of those issues, I’m attracted to him because of the fact that he doesn’t let those issues stop him from living or taking chances or saving the world.”

"So, this is more than just wanting to tug on those curls while riding him then?" Darcy asks slyly and Liz huffs despite the rising flush on her cheeks, irritated at herself for saying things she hadn't even let herself think too deeply about. She refuses to get all twitterpated over someone she's connected with again -- the last time didn't work out so well for anybody.

Except for maybe the world.

Wow, well there's a new thought for her to ponder. Not that she cares, she'd sacrifice the planet to have Alex back.

She groans and lets herself fall backward onto the mattress. Being a grown-up is hard.

The bed dips down as Darcy and Ava join her, one on either side, and Ava pulls gently on a strand of her hair. “I think he’s a good man, giant monster issues aside, and I’d like to remind you of some advice you gave me about this one,” she says, with a smirk in Darcy’s direction. Liz looks up at her and Ava smiles. “You are ready, to find someone real again, you’re just afraid to admit that. And kind of in the middle of a giant life upheaval, but since that seems to describe every single moment of our lives, I don’t think that should be a sticking point.”

Liz pulls a pillow down over her face, but nods anyways. Ava’s right. She shouldn’t let her issues over Max stop her from trying for something real again. She doesn’t know if Bruce is that someone; despite similar words to Jane, it has only been four days since she met him after all. But, she shouldn’t talk herself out of even liking him just because she’s not sure how to find a balance between absolute obsession and the casual attitude she had toward dating and sex for most of college. Not that she regrets those years, or isn’t totally fantasizing about riding him right now...

She zaps Darcy for putting those thoughts in her head and laughs into the pillow as the brunette yelps in surprise and topples off the bed.

Liz sits up and leans over the bed with Ava to look at Darcy, laying on her back on the floor, her face scrunched into a weird combination of a laugh and a grimace. “You suck,” the brunette proclaims after a minute, then surrenders to the laugh. “Also, that was hilarious.”

Ava slides off the bed to join her on the floor, hovering over her with a happy grin before swooping in for a kiss that gives Liz a pang of joy at how well those two have worked out, and another reminder of the strange circles her life seems to move in. She stands up, intending to start the tour that got derailed and ask about their bags, then sways as the dizziness she felt earlier flares up again. “Woah, headrush,” she mutters, closing her eyes against the blurring room.

She hears the other two rise to their feet and then Ava is pressing a hand against her forehead before letting loose a soft stream of barely intelligible expletives. “Damn it, Liz, you’re the scientist, you know you need to binge on calories after a large energy expenditure.”

“I did!” Liz defends herself. “I had an omelet before hand, and a ridiculous coffee and chocolate and whipped cream concoction afterwards.”

“And how long has it been since then?” Ava asks pointedly and Liz winces, then shrugs.

“That depends. What time is it?”

Ava doesn’t answer, just grabs her hand and tugs her toward the door, forcing Liz to open her eyes or risk a concussion in addition to nutritional deprivation. “Jarvis? Is that your name?” Ava asks as she pulls Liz down the hallway, Darcy following behind and openly giggling.

“Yes, Ms. Ava, how can I be of service?” The AI responds after a moments pause and Liz spares a moment to wonder, not for the first time, if there is more to Ava’s name than she knows.

“Where’s that supposedly genius creator of yours?”

“In Dr. Banner’s lab with Drs. Banner and Foster.”

“And how do I get there?”

Liz opens her mouth to protest that A. she could lead them there, and B. she is more than capable of taking care of herself, but Ava shoots her a sharp look that has her closing her mouth and contemplating the likelihood that Pepper was one of the genetic donors for the podsquad. Some forms of intimidation seem innate.

“If you enter the elevator you used to arrive here, I will take you to the appropriate floor.”

“Thank you, Jarvis,” Ava responds as they walk into the common area, Coulson and his paperwork already gone.

“You are welcome, Ms. Ava,” Jarvis says and Liz thinks she should be more worried about the idea of Jarvis teaming up with the terrible twosome corralling her into the elevator than she is capable of being in her current state of lightheadedness.

When they arrive on the floor with Bruce’s lab, Ava manhandles her out of the elevator and then stomps her foot on the floor with a small burst of telekinetic power, making all the beakers in the room rattle and catching the attention of the three scientists huddled around a screen hovering in midair, still watching videos of the portal.

"Hey Stark," she calls, when the three turn to see what made the room shake. "You need to take better care of your heart surgeon. Come buy us lunch before she actually passes out and we have to get calories into her in a more unpleasant way."

The three of them exchange glances Liz can't read at this distance, not with her vision still blurred around the edges, before hurrying toward them, matching expressions of concern on their faces. Tony reaches them first and then kind of hovers, vibrating with energy. "Why didn't you say something, Sparky? I would have ordered a five course meal."

Bruce and Jane are next, Bruce automatically reaching out to touch her forehead, his touch not as warm as usual against her flushed skin. Liz still feels tingles though, and has a sinking feeling that she's giving him a dopey smile.

"Because she's like you geniuses," Ava drawls in a tone that implies another word entirely, "And she tends to ignore her bodily needs." She fixes all three of them with a hard stare and Liz is distantly amused by the submissive body language they all display in response. "The things we can do come at a price, even with our Antarian enhanced physiology, and we have to maintain a high caloric intake to match our energy expenditure. Especially Liz, whose body wasn't designed for this like mine."

Tony and Bruce are nodding, fascination clear in their eyes, and Jane looks like she's contemplating the metabolic needs of Asgardians, so it is Darcy who claps her hands and steps forward, ever the practical one as she slips an arm around Liz's waist and raises an eyebrow at the group. "So where are we going to eat?"

Tony grins and herds them toward the elevator. "I know a buffet place that could probably keep up with Thor, think that'll be enough calories for my new favorite doctor?"

Ava nods at Tony with a faint smile that indicates he's on his way to earning her forgiveness, but Liz frowns. "I don't remember going to med school," she mutters, honestly not sure if she's being sarcastic or not, but everyone ignores her. She's going to start carrying around power bars if it means avoiding this embarrassment in the future.

She doesn't process much of the ensuing elevator ride, or limo ride, just flashes of conversation, the warmth of Darcy and Ava on either side of her, the weight of Bruce's gaze, and the edge to Tony's voice that shows the concern he'd never give words to.

When they arrive, she is placed in a booth with Darcy to keep watch and make sure she doesn't face plant into her coke -- and god does she hate soda, but the sugar and caffeine floods her system with welcome energy and clarity. She also hates needing to be babysat; she's never done well with being weak. Darcy knows this and forgives the sharpness of her tone with a knowing eyebrow raise that has Liz flushing and bumping their shoulders together in silent apology.

Ava comes back with plates for all three of them and Liz scoots closer to the wall, making room, even as she stuffs her face with Lo Mein and bites of sugared puff pastry. When she pauses to breathe, it's to let out a happy sigh that's kind of really a moan and she grins unashamedly at the amused faces surrounding her. The food is good, and that's not just her desperation for nutrients talking. She lifts her glass, "A toast to Tony's excellent taste and the entirely too patient women who keep us from killing ourselves."

It comes out a touch more serious than she was intending, but the others politely ignore it to join her toast with bright grins and muted chuckles. Tony's eyes flash in her direction with a hint of the fierceness he'd let her see the night before and Liz tips her glass in his direction, then swallows -- this building a family thing isn't going to be nearly as hard as she thought.

Tony has to leave soon after, it's easy to forget that in addition to being a superhero and a brilliant inventor, he's also still the owner and head of R&D of one of the most successful companies in the world, but he pays before he goes and leaves Happy with the limo. It is impossible to forget his generosity, and Liz savors the fact that they get to see a side of him most of the rest of the world can't imagine.

Ava makes her take a nap when they get back to the Tower, and by the time she wakes up, both Tony and Pepper are home and it's time for dinner. "When I can't sleep tonight and end up driving Jarvis to world domination because I won't stop talking to him, I'm blaming you," she tells Ava when she wanders out into the kitchen and finds them ordering pizza.

Ava just laughs at her and Tony raises his head from the tablet he was working on with a grin. "I've kind of always wanted Jarvis to take over the world, can I help?"

"No," Pepper admonishes, not bothering to look up from her own tablet. "I need at least three weeks notice before any world conquering endeavors so I can get the paperwork organized."

"You're too good to me, Potts," Tony says expansively, leaning over to place a kiss on her cheek. Pepper smiles and tangles their fingers together, still not looking up, and Liz grins.

"The World Security Council should be quaking in their boots. They could never make anything secure from you three."

Tony grins smugly and Pepper finally looks up to grace her with a smile that reminds Liz of nothing quite so much as the sight of Natasha with a gun in her hand. “Yes, they should,” Pepper says blandly, her tone holding no hint of the fury in her eyes, and Liz knows she’s not the only one who wants to know more about the men and women behind a certain nuclear warhead.

There’s a moment of silence, stretched tight with things unsaid, and then Liz perks up, bouncing on her toes. “Oh, hey! While you’re both here. Want to help me shock the hell out of my best friends?”

Pepper’s smile softens into something less dangerous and Tony laughs. “Do you even have to ask?”

Liz bounces again, ignoring the amused smiles on Ava and Darcy’s faces (Bruce and Jane are lost to the world as they pore over a tablet together at the kitchen table) and then turns and goes back to her room, grabbing her laptop and returning to the living room where she plops onto the couch next to Tony. She swipes her thumb over the scanner and waits impatiently for the screen to load, and then Skype to open after she clicks on the appropriate icon. Tony makes a face at her use of non-Stark software and she laughs at him.

Only Maria shows as online, but she knows Kyle’s with her, so she sends a call request and composes her face into a less manic grin.

There’s a familiar boop-boop sound a moment later, and then there are two faces grinning at her. She blinks back sudden tears, realizing it’s the first time she’s seen them since Sweden. Before she can speak, Maria’s gaze flicks to the side and her mouth falls open. “Is that Tony Stark?!” she squeaks, triggering a sudden swivel of Kyle’s head.

“Yes it is,” Tony said with a cocky smirk as Liz swallows her tears and laughs instead.

“He’s my new boss, kind of. And landlord,” Liz says, then tilts her head to see around Tony to Pepper. “Or do you hold those titles?”

“I’m twelve percent your landlord,” Pepper says with a sharp smile in Tony’s direction. “And everyone’s boss.”

Liz laughs again as Tony pouts, and Maria and Kyle both gape at her. Kyle recovers first, clearing his throat in an attempt at reclaiming his dignity. “So, I was wrong. You still have the power to surprise me, Liz.”

“Damn straight,” Liz says, still grinning. “Wait until you actually get to see the place in person. I’m thinking Christmas in New York?”

Maria lets out a high pitched shriek of excitement that has Tony and several others in the room wincing. Liz chuckles and stands up, carrying the laptop back to her room to continue the conversation in private after giving Tony and Pepper a wave of gratitude, and the others a grimace of apology.

Her best friend starts babbling at her before she even has her bedroom door open and Liz grins, her eyes burning with tears again, as unmitigated joy wells within her chest. She’s not exactly sure when or how it happened, but at some point after her entire world was destroyed, her life became pretty damn awesome.

Everything, everyone she lost still hurts and always will, and old fears about the FBI have been joined by new fears about other faceless, and not so faceless, organizations, but her life is filled with amazing people and she loves each and every one of them.

She gets very few words in edgewise, and Kyle even fewer, but she’s reluctant to sign-off when Darcy comes to find her and tell her the pizza’s arrived. She does though, with a promise to call again as soon as their schedules allow, and then follows Darcy back out into the common area where the tantalizing scent of fresh, hot pizza is enough to lift her mood again.

She veers toward Bruce, who’s standing next to a box of Hawaiian, her favorite, and grins at him as she slips a couple slices onto a plate. “Finally moved out of science-land I see.”

He chuckles and gestures toward Jane, who’s been cornered by Pepper and is looking a little dazed. “Someone a lot more intimidating than I am, at least in this form, intervened.”

“Pepper is definitely the most terrifying person in this Tower,” Liz agrees, “Which is probably a good thing.”

Bruce nods with a faint chuckle. “Tony’s not the only one who needs a keeper.”

Liz laughs and shakes her head. Her eyes find Ava making a face at a mushroom-covered slice of pizza Darcy is waving around in front of her. “Good thing we have a few of them now, eh?”

Bruce smiles at her in agreement and Liz breaks eye contact with reluctance. She’s well aware of how intense situations can heighten connections -- this is not the first group of amazing and unusual people she’s bonded with -- but her admiration of and genuine growing affection for the man standing beside her, along with her long denied libido, are pushing her toward feelings and actions she’s not quite ready for.

Not to mention her deep desire to not terrify Bruce into running for the hills, which she’s pretty sure would be inevitable if she gave into the desire to push him up against the fridge and have her way with him.

Instead, she coaxes him over to where Tony has joined Ava and Darcy on the couch. She enjoys their banter, even if she does end up zapping Darcy a few times when her innuendo about Liz and Bruce gets a little too on-point for comfort.

After dinner, Tony disappears to his lab and Pepper is engrossed in her tablet and cell phone. Jane looks exhausted, but wired enough to keep going for hours unless forced to sleep, so after bidding Bruce goodnight, Liz helps Darcy wrangle their boss down the hall toward her room. They let her babble at them, Liz responding to the bits she understands, while undressing her and getting her into bed. She falls asleep almost as soon as they’ve pulled the blankets up and Darcy gives her a quiet high five as they slip back out of the room.

“So, I’m going to be breaking in our bed with incredibly hot celebratory sex, which means no will notice if you break into a certain genius’s room for a little seduction of your own,” Darcy tells her, eyes twinkling but tone serious.

Liz rolls her eyes and shoves her down the hall. “I am not seducing anyone. Go have fun with your girlfriend; I’m going to talk to Jarvis about some things.”

Darcy wrinkles her nose, still grinning as Liz pushes her toward her room. “I guess you could have like, kind of phone sex with him? Assuming Jarvis swings that way of course,” she adds, with a wink toward the ceiling.

“I’m not sure I ‘swing’ any way at all, Ms. Lewis,” Jarvis says archly and Liz laughs as Darcy pouts.

Ava is standing in the doorway to her and Darcy’s room, watching them with clear amusement, and Liz gives Darcy one last shove in her direction. “She’s all yours.”

Ava laughs and reels Darcy in for a kiss, then grins at Liz over her girlfriend’s shoulder. “Enjoy the peace while it lasts.”

Darcy stiffens in clear protest of this and Ava just kisses her again, pulling her inside the room and letting the door slide shut, cutting off all sound much to Liz’s relief. She shakes her head with a smile and then enters her own room, determined to read more of the files Tony had found. She’s not sure she can trust SHIELD on their own merits, much less as protection from the Special Unit, and the more she knows the better.

It is not peaceful reading, and neither is the sleep that follows.

There is a knock on her door early enough the next morning that the sun hasn’t quite peeked over the top of the Tower yet. It is quiet, but still wakes Liz from the light doze she’d settled into after emerging from an unsettling dream. She checks to make sure she put on shorts last night and isn’t just in her underwear and Jarvis t-shirt, and then pads over to the door in her bare feet, relishing the thick carpet. When the door slides open, Natasha Romanov is standing on the other side, watching her with a cool, assessing gaze.

Those eyes that can’t decide if they’re blue or green flick over her from top to bottom and she nods slightly. “Those will do, but I recommend a sports bra.”

Liz stares at her, not sure if it’s the barely awake thing or just a complete non-comprehension thing and Natasha smiles, a barely there flicker of red.

“You need training. Your powers are impressive, but you would have been more effective, and avoided injury, if you were as aware of and in control of your body as you are of them.”

Liz can’t disagree with that assessment, nor does she think she could ever find a better trainer than Natasha, even if the idea justifiably terrifies her, so she nods and turns toward the pile of clothes she’d left on a chair in the corner after unpacking the bags Ava and Darcy brought with them. She shucks her t-shirt and pulls on a red sports bra, then touches her shorts and changes them from sheer cotton to something a lot more suitable for exercise, along with adding a couple inches for comfort. Below the chair are her combat boots, heels, and a pair of tennis shoes she’d purchased for lab use, but will do just as well for this.

Once she’s pulled on socks, laced up the shoes, and grabbed her cell phone and wallet, she stands and turns back to Natasha, who has a faint smile on her face. “Let’s do this.”

Natasha nods, and turns without another word. Liz makes a pit stop in the kitchen to grab a banana and a gatorade out of the fridge before following Natasha to the elevator. She does not need a repeat of yesterday.

Natasha looks faintly approving as Liz eats the banana on the way to the ground floor, and Liz tosses the peel in a trash can once they make it out on to the sidewalk, wondering where the other woman is taking her, but content to wait and see.

A part of her that wasn’t really awake when Natasha knocked on her door is just now starting to process, and to wonder just how broken she’s going to be whenever this first training session ends. It’s also feeling a flicker of warmth that Natasha even offered to train her, an offer she is quite sure that very few people have ever received. The warmth helps keep the terror to a manageable level.

Eventually Natasha leads her into a nondescript office building, that, once they get past the initial facade with a wave of the redhead’s ID badge and a razor sharp grin that no security professional is stupid enough to question, has too many armed individuals in skintight suits to be anything other than a SHIELD building. She follows Natasha down several flights of stairs, until they’re several basements below ground level, and into the most state of the art gym Liz has ever seen.

There’s equipment she doesn’t even begin to have names for, and different sized mats for sparring practice and who knows what else. There are a few others already there, but Liz only has eyes for Natasha, who leads her to one of the smaller mats in the back corner of the room and gives her another up-down glance that if it wasn’t so potentially lethal, Liz would want to return with interest.

She might be crushing on Bruce, but that does not change the fact that Natasha is incandescently attractive, in ways far less immediately obvious than her breathtaking appearance.

Right now though, she’s a woman who could kill Liz with one single strand of her hair, and who can, hopefully, teach Liz how to stop anyone else from doing so.

“Stretching before warming up your muscles can lead to tearing, so let’s start with some basic self defense and work our way up from there,” Natasha says with a smile that is one part amusement and three parts more lethal than a shark’s.

Liz swallows a squeak and nods. She is absolutely not calculating how many minutes it’s going to take her for her to regret this.

The answer is three.

But after she recovers from that painful fall, and the dozen that follow after, and the realization that there will be many, many more in her future, she savors the glint in Natasha’s eyes and the “Not as bad as I expected,” as the compliments they are.

Her exhaustion and soreness is complete enough that she is totally surprised by Clint appearing next to Natasha, his lips quirked in the faintest of smirks although his eyes are dark. “I am feeling outnumbered by ninjas,” Liz tells him, after she catches her breath, and his lips twitch a little wider.

It’s Natasha who speaks. “I know you have your own weapons, but you also need to know how to handle and fire a gun.”

Liz’s fingers tighten against her plastic gatorade bottle as she breathes through the sudden roaring in her ears and the memory of a gunshot that lights up her abdomen with phantom pain. Guns are the enemy. They have been since one almost took her life, since they almost took it again along with the boy she loved, since she’s only ever been on one end of them and it hasn’t been the end that comes with control.

She looks up at two pairs of steady eyes, in faces that have been on every conceivable end of a gun, and nods as she exhales. Maybe it’s time to change that.

Clint offers her a hand up and she takes it with a small smile, appreciating the trust and kindness inherent in initiating physical contact with someone who’s been inside his mind, after the kind of violation Loki subjected him to.

As she follows him and Natasha to the next level up and the gun range slash armory it contains, she stares at the back of his broad shoulders and contemplates bravery. Natasha could have taught her how to shoot a gun. Hawkeye might be the best marksman the world has ever seen, or at least the best one she’s ever seen, but the Black Widow is perfectly competent, even deadly, with firearms.

But Liz had helped Clint, in however small a way, and she has a feeling that neither of the two people in front of her are comfortable with debts. Even if the person they owe it to doesn’t think of it that way.

Tony’s very similar. But he resorts to being so generous that no one, other than Pepper, could balance out the other side of that ledger.

Liz has had to turn down three more offers of private islands, an entire wing built at Columbia specifically for her, and other ridiculously extravagant gifts since she healed him. She has no doubt that there will be more offers until Tony feels satisfied, however much she knows she could never repay him and Pepper for their, very large, role in how amazing her life is at the moment.

Convincing the bulk of her team that families don’t need the concept of debt is probably a task far more daunting than attempting to mold them into a family to begin with. Not that she doesn’t intend to try. She’s never liked the phrase ‘the sky’s the limit’ because that implies there is a limit at all to how far one could reach for, and she refuses to stunt her thinking that way.

Which is something she thinks at least a few members of her team, Tony and Steve for two, would agree with. The others, well, sometimes limits aren’t so much about actuality as they are about being afraid to reach for things at all. Something she is determined to train out of Bruce, even if they never become more than friends, lab buddies, and teammates.

She’s suddenly dodging to the left without knowing why and snaps out of her mental haze to see Natasha grinning at her, hand back at her side from where it had lashed out toward her ribs.

“You have better instincts when you’re not paying attention. We’ll have to work on that.”

“If you and Pepper joined forces, every single world would surrender out of sheer terror,” Liz informs her, once her heart has slowed to a normal rate.

Clint cracks an actual smile at that and Natasha’s grin sharpens into something that could definitely make Liz surrender out of sheer terror.

Clint’s smile disappears again as she checks out a gun and is instructed on range rules and proper firearm safety, all while ignoring the hints of dizzying black at the edges of her vision when she stares at the gun for too long. She’s told she’ll be spending several lessons on disassembling and reassembling, but today, lucky her, she actually gets to shoot.

Natasha stays back, just watching, and Clint’s hands are impersonal and firm as he directs her in a proper stance and curves her hands around the cold metal.

Her breathing sounds too loud, despite being muffled by the noise-cancelling headphones that connect her to Clint’s surprisingly soothing voice as he walks her through the mental and physical preparation of releasing the safety, aiming, and pulling the trigger.

When she finally does, it takes every ounce of will power she has to keep her eyes open as her hands rock from the recoil and distant echoes fill the room from the firing pin crushing whatever form of explosive powder is in the gun they gave her. She fires again, and again, following Clint’s instructions, until she’s emptied half the clip.

There’s a hole in the edge of the torso on the target in front of her, approximately where a kidney would be, along with a few others scattered across the center mass, and Liz ignores the trembling in her fingers as she lowers the gun.

It’s far too easy to picture bleeding flesh instead of paper and she flinches when Clint touches her hand. “Sorry,” she says automatically, still not looking away from the target. “After flambéed aliens this really shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“We all have our things,” he says quietly, finally drawing her gaze to his face, which is stoic although the flicker in his eyes hints at the emotions running beneath the facade. “We’re all allowed to have our things.”

She manages a half-smile in response and he turns to face the target. “You did good. Better than most do the first time they use a gun.”

“Not better than you I bet,” Liz says, actual humor slipping into her tone, and he gives her another smile that almost qualifies as a grin.

“No, not better than me.”

“Because he’s a freaky savant with any weapons involving aim,” Natasha observes dryly, stepping up behind them with her own pair of headphones, and Clint turns his grin on her with a raised eyebrow.

“And you’re a freaky savant who can murder people with your thighs. Like I said, we all have our things.”

Liz laughs, something like relief bubbling in her gut as her hands finally stop shaking.

Clint’s smile drops down a notch and he shifts his gaze back to her. “Do you want to finish the clip?”

She takes a breath, and then nods. He gives her some pointers based on seeing her shoot, with Natasha jumping in with a few that, in her words, “someone without breasts and hips wouldn’t understand,” and this time there are fewer holes at the edges of the target.

Her hands are still shaking, but Liz expects it will take more than one lesson, and more than one nightmare, before that changes.

After she’s turned her gun back in, and agreed to meet them both at the same time the next morning, she pauses in the hallway, both of them stopping to watch her with muted curiousity.

“I’m sure you already know about Tony’s plans to move everyone into the tower because knowing shit is basically your job,” she says, earning a smirk from Natasha and another glimmer of amusement from Clint. “But you may not know that my friend Ava is there.” She meets Natasha’s gaze, forcing her tone to remain casual. “She’s the expert on mind control I mentioned on the helicarrier.”

She can feel Clint’s eyes burning into the side of her face as sudden tension chases away the ease they’d built over the course of the morning. She turns to look at him, catching his eyes for only a second before he looks away, jaw clenched tightly. She was going to tell him that Ava would be happy to answer any questions he might have, but knows somehow that those words won’t be received well. Instead, others tumble out, almost against her will.

“My best friend, Alex,” she says, digging her nails into her palms to keep her voice from catching on his name. “He died because someone controlled him, for months, and his brain couldn’t handle the strain.”

Clint’s eyes have snapped back to hers, wide with blown pupils, and she sucks in a shuddering breath. “I don’t know what it’s like to be on the other end of that, but if you ever want to talk about it, Ava’s not the only one willing to listen.” Her lips twist into an almost smile. “She’s less likely to cry on you though, fair warning.”

Clint nods, a tightly controlled motion, and Liz bites her lip, then raises her shoulders in an awkward shrug. “Either of you know the closest coffee place? Cause I need a metric fuckton of caffeine before I’ll feel even slightly sane again.”

Natasha’s answering smile is one of the warmest Liz has ever seen her give, although it disappears quickly into her usual half-smirk. “Yes. SHIELD coffee isn’t drinkable unless you’ve already given up on life, but there’s an obnoxious hipster joint half a block down that uses espresso syrup on their drinks. It shouldn’t work, but it does.”

Liz grins, shoving every bit of emotional misery out of her mind as her mouth waters. “If you’re free, either or both of you,” she adds, glancing back at Clint, who’s still tight with tension, but not quite as stiff as he was a moment ago, “it’ll be my treat.”

“Payment for the bruises you’ll have later?” Natasha asks sweetly, earning a rough chuckle from Clint and a blinding grin from Liz.

“More like bribery for hopefully less of them tomorrow.”

“Nice try,” Natasha says with her shark’s smile. “But yes, you may buy us coffee.”

“Us?” Clint asks mildly, and then takes a step back when Natasha looks at him. “Yeah, us, definitely us.”

Liz snorts, and then grins again as Clint gives her a mildly betrayed look. “You’re the one who pointed out the terror she inspires,” he says, his lips curving downward in what she’s pretty sure is an attempt to hide his smile.

“Yes I did,” Liz admits. “But I’m not a ninja. Shouldn’t you have like, immunity or something?”

Clint just looks at her, then at Natasha, then back at her, and Liz chokes on another laugh. “Right, maybe not. Coffee?”

“Coffee,” Natasha agrees, stepping forward to lead them up and out of the building.

The coffee place is as ridiculous as Natasha described, but the drinks and pastries are amazing and Liz knows she’ll be back. Especially if training continues to be such an emotional and physical workout.

There are awkward pauses in the conversation with Clint and Natasha that haven’t occurred with her and Bruce and Tony -- science is an excellent bond. But when they part ways, Liz feels like they’ve managed to deepen the connection formed from fighting the Chitauri together, and has hopes that they will take Tony up on his offer of living space when the Tower is finished.

Standing on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop, she texts Ava, knowing she, at least, will be awake by now. The text is to let her know that Liz is out of the Tower, but safe, and will return later. She’d found a lot of volunteer crews last night, when she’d needed a break from the FBI files, and has chosen one on the edge of the destruction, outside of Manhattan and far away from the gleaming office buildings that will have the highest priority in reconstruction.

She takes a cab after using the GPS on her Stark Phone to determine that it’s farther than she wants to walk, and is dropped off in a neighborhood that is full of buildings that were clearly showing signs of wear before the attack, and now looks almost like post-war pictures of bombed out ghettos in Europe.

It might be that comparison that draws her gaze unerringly to a tall, blond figure, hefting blocks of rubble into a truck with an ease that is hard to believe even after she’s seen him in action.

She doesn’t call out to him, not wanting to blow his cover if no one has recognized him as the man in the shaky cellphone stills of the battle. Instead she finds one of the individuals carrying clipboards and asks where she can help.

They assign her to a group helping sort through the piles of smaller bits of rubble and trash for items worth salvaging, all of which are either being set aside to return to their owners, or donated to other survivors. She forgets that she even saw Steve until there’s a light touch on her shoulder hours later and she turns to see him smiling at her and proffering a water bottle.

“I think you’ve earned a break,” he says, the open smile on his face transforming him from the focused and implacable man he’d been the last time she saw him on the streets of New York, covered in grime and sweat.

“Ditto,” she says, grinning as he mouths the word before shaking his head in a clear refusal to be bothered by yet another thing he doesn’t understand. “You look like you’ve been here a while.”

He shrugs, smile taking on a hint of bashfulness. “I’ve been coming here since SHIELD let us go.” His mouth quirks ruefully. “I figure I broke enough walls, the least I can do is help clean up the mess.”

She laughs. “I don’t think anyone else would hold you accountable, given why you broke those walls.” He shrugs again, smile fading a bit, and she tips her water bottle in his direction. “But I admire you for it.”

His smile warms as he taps his water against hers. “Ditto.”

She laughs again at his smug little grin at having used the word correctly. “You need to come home with me.”

Steve’s eyes go wide and she quickly shakes her head. “That was not a proposition. I promise.” His shoulders slump a little in relief and she chuckles. If it wasn’t for her crush on Bruce, well, she’d probably have a hard time deciding whether she’d rather proposition Steve or Natasha. Or both. She’s on a team with entirely too many pretty people, who are attractive in ways much deeper than the surface. “Bruce and I are staying at the Tower, with Tony and Pepper. I know everyone would love to see you, and Tony has some plans for the reconstruction that you should definitely hear.”

Steve looks thoughtful, she’d seen a hint of wariness in his eyes at her mention of Tony, understandable given their rough start at communication, but eventually nods. “They break for lunch in an hour, if you don’t mind working until then.”

“Not at all,” she says with a smug smile of her own. Tony might be building the Tower, but she’s going to help him fill it.

True to his word, an hour later she and Steve are taking another cab back to the Tower. He’d wanted to walk, but she’d insisted after pointing out that A. she wasn’t a super soldier, and B. she’d spent the morning getting her ass kicked by Natasha. He’d laughed and surrendered the point, then spent the entire ride quizzing her on what the training had entailed.

She has a sinking feeling that if she survives Natasha, a certain super soldier’s going to be joining them in the ring to give her experience against a different sized enemy.

Now she just needs to con Tony into joining their training sessions. He can’t always have his suit and watching his pain might make her feel better about her own.

The man at the front desk recognizes her and waves her through to the elevator, though not without an appreciative glance at Steve, and Liz grins at the expression on Steve’s face as she asks Jarvis to take them to the communal floor.

“Look who I brought home!” she exclaims, fanning her hands out like Vanna White as she and Steve step out of the elevator once they arrive.

There is a brief pause in noise as everyone present turns to look at her, before immediately returning to an increasingly loud conversation. The smile falls off Liz’s face as she registers the tension in the room. Bruce is standing in the kitchen, his body tight and his face pale. Tony and Pepper are close by, Tony yelling and Pepper speaking in low, controlled tones. Ava and Darcy are on the couch, watching in confusion, and Jane is nowhere to be seen.

“What’s going on?” Liz asks loudly, putting a little extra into her voice that earns a wince from Steve (she’d forgotten about his enhanced hearing) and stares from everyone else. It is Tony who answers, his eyes bright with fury and his voice harsh.

“General Giant Asshole Ross keeps calling and demanding we turn custody of ‘The Hulk’ over to him and the military.” Tony snarls, then turns back to Pepper before Liz can respond.

Pepper shakes her head at him, clearly also furious, but more in control of that anger than Tony is. “No, you can’t blow him up this time. We can destroy him, but it has to be legally.”

Tony’s hands are clenched into fists and Liz understands the rage, anger of her own starting to simmer in her gut as she turns to face Bruce. His eyes have slid closed and he’s breathing slowly, working at maintaining control. She steps toward him and, after hesitating for a moment, wraps her hands around his, noting and ignoring the flicker of green as his eyes snap open before his body slumps when he sees that it’s her.

“Is he your Special Unit?” she asks in an intentionally light tone and he nods, lips twisting with bitterness and self-recrimination.

Before she can say anything else, Steve’s voice rings through the room, silencing everyone. “General Ross, this is Captain Rogers; I understand you have a concern about one of the members of my team.”

Liz spins and sees everyone else gaping at Steve, who has somehow gotten Jarvis to put the call through on one of his hovering screens. Steve is turned so that he is facing them, but the General can only see him. His arms are crossed over his chest and despite still wearing a grime streaked, and clingy, white t-shirt and jeans, he radiates more authority than the sputtering man on the screen, clad in full dress uniform.

“That man is a monster, and he is to be turned over to my custody immediately,” General Ross snaps, the menace he is attempting to project falling entirely flat when matched against Steve’s stoic regard.

Tony growls and Bruce’s hands, still tucked in hers, are repeatedly tensing.

“And who are you referring to?” Steve asks calmly. “Stark’s suit can hardly be called monstrous and referring to Thor that way would probably set off an unpleasant diplomatic incident.” The General snarls, his face bright red, and Steve raises an eyebrow. “Unless you’re referring to Dr. Banner and myself, who were both subjected to versions of the same serum. At the behest of the military I might add.”

“You sneaky son of a bitch,” Tony mutters, his tone admiring despite the fury still visible on his face, and Liz can’t stop her own grin as she squeezes Bruce’s hands. The Captain really is too good to be true.

“You cannot compare yourself to that thing,” Ross spits and Steve’s expression shifts into one of the most intimidating stares Liz has ever seen. Pepper has new competition for most terrifying force of nature in the Tower, and General Ross doesn’t stand a chance.

Bruce,” Steve says, with stern emphasis on his name, “Is a civilian and a hero who was asked by our government to assist with the recent attack. I, my team, and the city of New York are all deeply grateful for that help, given that none of us might be standing today if he had refused out of justifiable fear of and anger toward your continued persecution.”

The General is pale, his hands clenched into fists, and Steve takes a step closer to the screen, his eyes boring into the other man. “You will cease that persecution, immediately, or you will bear witness to what happens when the rest of us get angry.”

His fingers twitch in some kind of signal and Jarvis cuts the feed before the General can work up a response. The room is deathly silent, all of them staring in awe and shock, and a faint flush rises up Steve’s cheeks.

Bruce exhales shakily, half chuckle and half something else, and Liz tilts her head just in time to see him shoot her a sly smile before he turns his gaze on the Captain. “Marry me?”

Tony lets out a bark of laughter and Pepper grins as Liz raises her hands to her mouth in a futile attempt to hold in her own giggles. Darcy and Ava look confused, as does Steve, his blue eyes wide with astonishment, and Liz gives into her amusement, sliding into a nearby chair and holding her head in her hands as her shoulders shake with laughter.

She’s beginning to think her team would have figured out this family thing without her.

She’s also beginning to think it was a bad idea to start this inappropriate proposal trend. One of these days, someone’s going to say yes, and then where will they be?

A/N2: So apparently ditto has been in use since the late seventeen hundreds and Steve most likely would have heard it before. But the scene was too adorable to cut so I decided to ignore historical accuracy just this once.

Also, just a reminder note, if I ever need to include trigger warnings, please tell me and I'll add them, no questions asked.

Whimsicality's Fics

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