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Title: Come Undone
Fandom/Pairing: The Avengers, Clint Barton/Phil Coulson
Spoilers/Warnings: Is there anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet? Well, if not, this is a fix it. Eventually.
Rating: R
Summary: It was supposed to get easier, afterwards.

Previous Chapters: DW // LJ // AO3




It's more than a little surreal, Tony thinks, standing in the middle of the crater, wearing a suit that probably wouldn't have been possible- or even necessary- were it not for the green chunks of unearthed Trinitite glinting all around him.

Rhodey had cleared his path into White Sands, not that there were many people eager to swarm the area. Off in the distance, Tony can see the trucks moving into position, waiting for their orders. Otherwise, there's not much to look at, and probably never was, except for one moment in July of 1945, when the desert floor had turned to glass and the world had changed.

It is a kick, though, to look up and try to guess where Feynman had parked to watch the world's first nuke go off through his truck's windshield.

The crater he would've seen being created had been over a thousand feet wide and ten feet deep, when they'd filled it in.

The one Tony's standing in now is only about twenty two feet wide, but it's eleven feet deep, and that's just strange, given the fact that there's nothing but fill, here, and it's only scattered about fifty feet past the edges of the crater.

Cap's voice is in his ear, announcing their approach.

"Is it clear?"

"Safe as houses. Well. Houses that have been blown to smithereens. Come on down!" By the time he's managed to crawl out of the hole, the quinjet's touching down about fifty yards away and people are pouring out. The dust masks are regulation, apparently, but Natasha's hair and stance would stand out anywhere; she's got her hand near her hip, ready to draw at the drop of a hat. Regardless of the fact that Tony's just climbed out of the only possible source of cover for a mile in any direction. Steve, when he follows her out, doesn't seem any more thrilled with the surroundings.

Bruce's head is swiveling, though, as he approaches. He's trying to look everywhere at once, and it's not until he's four feet away that Tony can see his expression over the mask. He's grinning like he just can't believe he's standing here.

"This is insane, you know?" Bruce says, after he's spun around once. His arms are still spread wide. "It's just..."

Tony just nods, because humbling isn't in any lexicon that he'd admit to having, and it's cool, standing here with someone else who gets it, just for a second, because Cap's on his way and he looks serious and unimpressed and they're going to have to get back to work, in a minute here.

---

Phil watches through the quinjet door, listening in on comms as Banner and Stark double check each other's readings out by the crater. Cap's walking the perimeter, checking in with the Agents scattered throughout the area. Natasha's is the only voice he never hears, but she's standing five feet in front of the door, her back to him, and he can read her every thought in the set of her shoulders.

She's bored out of her mind, but not unhappy.

Two months ago, this would've bored the hell out of Phil, too, but for now the comms channels forwarding to his headset are almost calming. He hasn't forgotten why they're out here. They're on a timeline and they don't know what's coming, but every sensor they're equipped with is up and running. They've got good people on this. For a few minutes, Phil just lets himself enjoy it.

The moment he starts feeling a little too at ease, he snaps back to attention.

"Cap. How's it looking?"

"Nobody here but us, sir," Rogers replies, the same moment Banner's quizzical hum comes over the line.

"Banner, what's going on?"

"Ah, there's too much noise, here. It's gotta be screwing with our equipment."

"I did design the damned things so they wouldn't go nuclear at the first hint of trouble," Stark replied.

"Then it's the sensors," Banner counters.

"Running diagnostics as we speak. No problems so far."

"Stark. Banner." He needs to rein them in before they get distracted arguing. "What's going on?"

"Weird readings," Banner replies.

"I've got that." Setting his tablet down, he steps out onto the ground and is momentarily blinded from the sunlight, nearly bumping into Natasha. "What are they saying?"

"Every test we've run, matrix content, radiation, soil chemistry and atmospheric, is coming up with the same thing. Apparently, there was no explosion here."

Phil frowns. He can see Stark helping Banner out of the highly obvious blast crater from here. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, he rolls his eyes. "That's good, then. We can all go home." There's laughter on the line from several points, one of the agents on the perimeter groans in relief.

"Finally. The heat's killing me, here," she says.

For a moment, Phil wonders if he's just set himself up to have to wrangle everyone back onto task, but Banner and Stark are already talking over each other. Banner's sounding confused, but not worried.

"You don't think-"

"Maybe. If I dial up the-"

"It's not set-"

"It'll only take a second," Stark replies. "Hand me that- yeah. Thanks. Okay. I'm going offline, back in a sec."

Phil doesn't have the time to stop him, he just squints across the desert floor to watch as Stark's suit unfolds off of him. He's crouching down over it, holding something in his hand, but Phil can't see what it is.

"Banner, fill us in."

"Oh. Right. Yes." Banner's turning towards them, but he doesn't move. "According to our readings, and blast crater notwithstanding, there was no explosion here. The chemical and physical evidence isn't lining up with the obvious morphological data."

"Okay..."

"Theoretically, it's possible that the actual explosion happened elsewhere."

Rogers sounds doubtful. "Okay, but where did it happen?"

Natasha's gone tense, her gaze slides over Phil as she considers the command relay station inside the jet. "Wouldn't we have heard-"

"Not if it didn't happen on Earth," Banner replies, distracted. Next to him, Stark's standing up, tossing his tools into the case he's got next to him. "Hold on. We might be able to tell you more in a second."

"No, I'd rather you filled us in on how an explosion that takes place here actually takes place nowhere in the world." Phil grinds his teeth. This must be how Fury feels every goddamned day.

Banner laughs as the suit crawls up over Stark's body, and the communications must be coming online before Stark's ready for it. "-helps if you use small words," he says, but there's no point in announcing that he'd been heard. They'd be here all day. Stark's jumped down into the crater a moment later.

"Okay. Think of gunpowder. You've got a pile of it sitting on the table and ignite it, it goes off, right? The results of the blast are immediate and obvious."

"Sure," Phil shrugs.

"Put that powder in a gun behind a bullet, and squeeze the trigger.. This is where it gets inelegant, but bear with me. The explosion happens inside the gun, yes, but where are the effects seen?"

"The energy of the blast is directed towards the target," Natasha says, warily. Like Phil, she's probably trying to remember her intro to physics classes, and maybe it wasn't such a bad move on Stark's part to suggest dumbing it down for the plebes.

"Right. The physical damage is removed from the point of ignition."

"But there's always residue," Natasha counters, a little more firmly.

"Arc reactors are a little more complicated gunpowder, but you're not wrong. Tony just dialed up the his sensors to look for..."

"A much narrower trajectory," Stark finishes. "And I think I've found it."

"What do you mean?"

"There was no finding it in the wind up top, but I scanned the crater and I found enough traces to delineate a path. It's so damned small, but... Seriously, we're on a molecular scale, here. And possibly cosmic."

"What are you talking about?"

"What do you know about neutrinos?"

"What's a neutrino?" Rogers asks, answering the question for at least 90 percent of the listeners on the line.

"Save it for the report," Phil decides. "Just tell me what you think it means."

Stark and Banner look like they're conferring, though no words are coming over the line. After a moment, Stark replies. He doesn't sound as sure as Phil would like.

"We'd need to run some more tests to be sure," he beings.

Banner picks up the slack. "But first glance? It looks like what you could expect to find if you wanted to build a tesseract from scrounged arc reactors."

"You serious?" Phil manages, but there's a sudden beeping on the line; he's just working out that it's bleeding through from Stark's suit when a chorus of alarms start blaring out of the quinjet's open door.

---

Natasha's got her orders- she's supposed to wait for Phil, but he's right on her heels anyway as she rushes to the control console. None of the alerts on the screens are making any sense.

Phil's leaning over her shoulder, scanning the screens with a scowl on his face. She moves away, back towards the door, and looks outside.

"Everybody, get back to transport, we're leaving. Stark, I want eyes in the sky, keep an eye out for stragglers. Everyone else? If he has to drag your ass back to transport, I want you to know that we'll be taking pictures for posterity and they'll be posted on the break room wall for all to see within the hour."

The order seems ridiculous, but Natasha gets it. They need to be able to move quickly, to avoid whatever's coming, but outside, nothing's changed, yet. It's a means of lighting a fire under their asses, and even if it's not needed, yet, it's better to have them on alert.

She crosses back to the console, looking at the closest screen. The numbers don't make any sense. "You know what's going on?"

Phil shakes his head, backtracking up the line of coded numbers that've filled one of the screens. She can tell when he gets it.

"Air pressure. We're about to have a storm," he says, mostly to himself. She can't tell whether he's grinning or gritting his teeth when he looks up at her, but he's addressing everyone outside. He addresses them directly, ordering everyone, no exceptions, to stay low and find whatever cover they can. Natasha heads for door again in hopes of getting a visual on the scene. By the time she's got her foot on the threshold, she can feel it coming. The air's gone still, pressing on on her. When her feet find the ground, they feel heavy. There's only one cloud in sight, and it's gathering fast, becoming tight, and dense.

Stark's still up there, his suit glinting dimly as he streaks towards the northern edge of the perimeter, and she's only starting to register the danger- she can't speak, can't even hear anything- when it's proven to her completely.

The sky cracks, the lightening arcs and strikes into him. For an instant, all is frozen, but the lightening's bending, swooping down.

It's following Stark's suit like a magnet, and only breaks to the ground when Stark's crashing into it.

---

Phil doesn't need to hear the thunder to know that something's wrong. He's standing next to Natasha before he realizes that they're being pelted with wind and sand and a smattering of rain, but she doesn't seem to register any of it. She's staring out across the desert.

No. Not across it. She's staring at a very fixed point.

It's been less than half a minute since he'd realized what was coming, but still, it takes him too long to find the binoculars. Longer still to get them focused. If it weren't for the flash of bright red catching on the edge of his field of vision, it might've taken even longer.

He doesn't want to think about time right now, because now that he's got what he needs in focus, he's not sure they've got any.

Stark's suit is sprawled in the dirt. It's impossible to tell if it's broken, but it's motionless, like a toy that's been thrown away. Phil tells himself that he's seen the armor take hits that nothing should be able to survive, but Thor is kneeling next to him in the dirt, running frantic hands over the armor, trying to find a latch or a catch, and his expression, when Phil catches it through the binoculars, is manic


Chapter 12

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