SUMMARY: SHIELD’s official position is that the Avengers never existed in the first place and they sure as hell don’t exist now. They’re not a superhero team, they’re not part of the agency anymore, and they’re definitely not sitting around waiting to save the world again, so don’t go getting any ideas about that.
RATING: PG-13 (for swears)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a work in progress that will probably end up coming in somewhere between six and eight chapters. I've got the first four chapters written and am close to finishing the rest, so expect regular updates.
“Fluids are composed of molecules that collide with one another and solid objects. The continuum assumption, however, considers fluids to be continuous, rather than discrete. Consequently, properties such as density, pressure, temperature, and velocity are taken to be well-defined at infinitesimally small points, and are assumed to vary continuously from one point to another.”
Once upon a time there were a bunch of strangers with some freaky superpowers who came together to save the world from an alien invasion. After they were finished saving the world they all went out for shawarma together. And then they went their separate ways.
There’s no such thing as the Avengers. Not according to SHIELD, anyway.
It doesn’t matter that the news won’t fucking shut up about them. Doesn’t matter that the whole goddamn country is obsessed with them. Doesn’t matter that there are two competing movie projects in development, a toy line that Wal-Mart can’t keep on the shelves, and a Facebook fan page with 12 million “Likes.”
SHIELD’s official position is that the Avengers never existed in the first place and they sure as hell don’t exist now.
If you can work up the nerve to ask Nick Fury about it he’ll tell you the same thing he told the president: Thor’s back in Asgard for good, Tony Stark’s busy rebuilding that phallic fucking tower of his, Steve Rogers is hiding in a studio apartment in Brooklyn, and Bruce Banner just plain disappeared. They’re not a superhero team, they’re not part of the agency anymore, and they’re definitely not sitting around waiting to save the world again, so don’t go getting any ideas about that.
“You’re both fired,” Fury said.
Clint stared at him. “The fuck?”
Natasha pressed her lips together and didn’t say anything.
“Your termination is effective immediately. In the interest of concluding your relationship with SHIELD on an amicable basis the agency is providing each of you with a generous separation package.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Clint said.
“Your severance is conditional upon you signing a release of claims maintaining confidentiality and a smooth, professional transition.”
“What the actual fuck?”
Fury glared at Clint with a single, steely eye. “Son, are you gonna shut the fuck up and listen to my termination speech or are you gonna get my boot up your ass?”
Clint snapped his mouth shut and crossed his arms stubbornly across his chest.
Fury sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Can either of you tell me what your primary occupational specialty is?”
“Clandestine human intelligence gathering and counterintelligence operations,” Natasha supplied stoically.
“Clandestine operations,” Fury repeated. “You turn on a TV lately, Barton? Your faces are on every channel, including the motherfucking Cartoon Network. My nephew keeps pestering me to get your goddamn autograph. I’m afraid SHIELD just doesn’t have a use for you anymore.”
“But we helped save the world!” Clint protested feebly.
“And we thank you for your service,” Fury told them, sliding a pair of thick packets across the desk. “Enjoy civilian life.”
“You can’t honestly tell me you’re surprised,” Natasha said, half a bottle of tequila later.
After they’d completed all their SHIELD exit interviews and cleaned out their desks and lockers, they’d ended up at a divey Mexican restaurant with greasy enchiladas and a surprisingly excellent selection of tequilas.
“Not really,” Clint admitted grudgingly. “Guess I don’t blame ’em for not trusting me.”
Natasha frowned. “It’s not about that.”
“Bullshit.” Clint downed another shot and set his glass upside down on the bar beside the others, all lined up in a neat little row like toy soldiers. “Coulson—”
“Don’t,” Natasha said sharply.
“—Dally, Delerue, Fuller, Hobbes, Markovich, McManus, Pang, Ritchie, Turner, and Velazco.”
“Eleven SHIELD agents died in the attack I led on the helicarrier. Eleven. And let’s not even get started on the civilian casualties. Is it any wonder they don’t want me? Fuck, I wouldn’t even want me.”
“That was Loki’s doing, not yours.”
He shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll never be clean of it.”
Natasha gave him a look that meant she thought he was being a dumbfuck. “Did you actually think you were clean before?”
Instead of answering, Clint signaled the bartender for another shot of tequila.
“Anyway,” she continued, “if that’s why they fired you, why the hell did they fire me?”
“Collateral damage?” he suggested.
Natasha reached for a tortilla chip and thumbed through the packet of papers she’d been given by SHIELD Human Resources. “Managing the Stress of a Job Loss,” she read aloud. “Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?”
Clint shook his head. “Fuck this shit. I’m going to Disneyland.”
As it happened, Disneyland was Clint’s codeword for the safe house he kept in Oregon. Natasha had never been there, but she knew it was a cabin somewhere in the woods, someplace very isolated. He only went there when he wanted to be completely alone.
She could respect his need for privacy, but only up to a point. After a week of radio silence she tried calling his cell, but it unsurprisingly went straight to voicemail.
Okay, so he didn’t want to talk. She left a message anyway and waited twenty-four hours with no response before texting:
If you want me to leave you alone, let me know you’re OK.
His response came five minutes later:
She left him alone.
“This doesn’t mean I’m joining your superhero club,” Bruce said. “Just so we’re clear.”
“Christ, we’re not eight-year-olds,” Tony said. “Does this look like a treehouse to you?”
“It most certainly does not,” Bruce conceded, looking around the lab Tony had built for him.
Tony shoved his hands into his pockets and narrowed his eyes, fixing Bruce with an intense gaze that most people probably found intimidating. “It’s a team, not a club,” he said. “And it could be fun.”
Bruce didn’t feel even the slightest bit intimidated. He shrugged. “Team sports aren’t really my thing.”
“But you like the lab?” Pepper prompted, gently steering them back to the matter at hand.
“Of course he likes the lab,” Tony said, waving his hand impatiently. “The lab is perfect. The lab has everything he’s ever wanted.”
“It doesn’t have a synchrotron,” Bruce pointed out.
Tony’s brow furrowed. “We’re a little pressed for space here in Manhattan, but I’m willing to build you a separate facility upstate if you really need it.”
“I was joking,” Bruce clarified, because he was fairly certain Tony wasn’t. “And yes, I like the lab. Very much, actually.”
It was perfect, in fact. An entire floor of Stark Tower, complete with living quarters, hidden deep in a sub-basement so isolated he’d never have to see another living soul if he didn’t want to. Except for Tony, of course. But Bruce didn’t mind Tony.
Objectively, he could appreciate why most people found Tony Stark so aggravating, but Bruce actually found him oddly soothing. Tony was the first person in a very long time who wasn’t afraid of him, not even a little bit. Tony didn’t walk on eggshells around him, he treated him just as blithely as he treated everyone else. To Bruce Banner that was a precious gift.
“Told ya,” Tony said, smirking at Pepper.
She rolled her eyes in a way that conveyed far more affection than annoyance. “In that case, I’ll have the employment paperwork emailed to you right away, Dr. Banner, so security can set up your access. And then it will be all yours.”
Tony grinned. “Welcome to Stark Industries.”
“Still not joining your superhero team,” Bruce told him.
There were a lot of things Steve Rogers liked about the twenty-first century. He liked having 500 channels of cable television because there was always something to watch. He liked the internet because it was like having the entire public library at your fingertips, twenty-four hours a day. And he liked mocha lattes, because they were just plain delicious. Also because the girl who made them at the cafe around the corner from his apartment was pretty and she always drew a picture in the foam for him. He didn’t know how she did it, exactly, but today it was a bird and it made him smile.
He stopped smiling when the phone in the breast pocket of his shirt started ringing. Cellular telephones were one of the things he didn’t like about the twenty-first century. He didn’t like the way people always seemed to stare at their phones instead of at each other and he didn’t like the constant interruptions they caused or the fact that you were never really alone because someone could always get in touch with you.
Which was why there was only one person in the whole world who had Steve’s cell phone number, and it was the person who’d insisted on giving him the phone in the first place.
It took him a little longer than it should have to find the right button to answer the phone, but not as long as it’d taken him the last time it rang. “Hello, Tony,” he said, feeling rather proud of himself.
“Good news,” Tony said, by way of greeting. “Phase one of the plan has been initiated.”
“Glad to hear it,” Steve said. “How’s phase two coming along?”
“Still no movement on that front.”
“All right. Let me know if anything changes.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
“Goodbye,” Steve said, but Tony had already hung up.
That was another thing he didn’t like about this modern world: how most people didn’t bother with basic courtesies anymore. And Tony Stark was one of the worst offenders on that count. Steve sighed and slipped the phone back into his pocket.
“You want another mocha latte?” the waitress asked, stopping by his table.
Steve beamed a sunny smile up at her. “I’d love one. Thank you very much, ma’am.”